Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Luxury of Having a Parent

This item has been moved to my ideas blog.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Catching Up: Best of 2004: April

Another installment in the continuing effort to distill the best postings from my personal mailing list. There were a lot of things that still seemed worthwhile, so I decided to take it one month at a time. So now I am up to whatever I posted there in April 2004. * * * * * [From MSNBC.com] Pets trigger our 'feel good' hormones, research suggests By Jane Weaver Updated: 9:45 a.m. ET April 02, 2004 Those big brown eyes gazing at you with complete adoration. The cool, wet nose nudging bare feet in the early morning. That tireless wagging tail that symbolizes pure joy in your presence. We know that dogs are dedicated companions that offer unquestioning attachment and acceptance. In the past several years, mounting scientific evidence suggests that they benefit us even beyond eager devotion. Numerous studies have shown that dogs -- one of the earliest domesticated animals -- can help lower blood pressure, ease the loneliness of the elderly in nursing homes, and help children overcome allergies. Now there's new research from the University of Missouri-Columbia suggesting the hormonal changes that occur when humans and dogs interact could help people cope with depression and certain stress- related disorders. Preliminary results from a study show that a few minutes of stroking our pet dog prompts a release of a number of "feel good" hormones in humans, including serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. In addition, petting our pooches results in decreased levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, the adrenal chemical responsible for regulating appetite and cravings for carbohydrates. ... * * * * * Websites of Note ----------------- Morph the 2004 Presidential Candidates I know, it's outdated and childish, but it's still kind of funny http://politicalhumor.about.com/library/images/blelection2004morph.htm * * * * * Clippings --------- MARRIAGE SEMINAR While attending a Marriage Seminar dealing with communication, Tom and his wife Grace listened to the instructor, "It is essential that husbands and wives know the things that are important to each other." He addressed the men, "Can you describe your wife's favorite flower?" Tom leaned over, touched his wife's arm gently and whispered, "It's Pillsbury, isn't it?" The rest of the story gets rather ugly so I'll stop right here. [From New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/07/opinion/07KRIS.html?th] As one sensible woman put it in her autobiography: "For me, abortion is a personal issue — between the mother, father and doctor." She added, "Abortion is not a presidential matter." President Bush, listen to your mother. * * * * * [From New York Times at http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/06/opinion/06KRUG.html?th] The Mercury Scandal By PAUL KRUGMAN Published: April 6, 2004 If you want a single example that captures why so many people no longer believe in the good intentions of the Bush administration, look at the case of mercury pollution. Mercury can damage the nervous system, especially in fetuses and infants — which is why the Food and Drug Administration warns pregnant women and nursing mothers against consuming types of fish, like albacore tuna, that often contain high mercury levels. ... During the 1990's, government regulation greatly reduced mercury emissions from medical and municipal waste incineration, leaving power plants as the main problem. ... The head of the E.P.A.'s Office of Air and Radiation, like most key environmental appointees in the Bush administration, previously made his living representing polluting industries (which, in case you haven't guessed, are huge Republican donors). ... E.P.A. experts normally study regulations before they are issued, but they were bypassed. According to The Los Angeles Times: "E.P.A. staffers say they were told not to undertake the normal scientific and economic studies called for under a standing executive order. . . . E.P.A. veterans say they cannot recall another instance where the agency's technical experts were cut out of developing a major regulatory proposal." ... * * * * * Great Quotes from Great Ladies I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once. -Jennifer Unlimited- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ If you can't be a good example, then you'll just have to be a horrible warning. -Catherine- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ I'm not offended by all the dumb blonde jokes because I know I'm not dumb .. and I'm also not blonde. -Dolly Parton- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ I'm not going to vacuum 'til Sears makes one you can ride on. -Roseanne Barr- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ When women are depressed they either eat or go shopping. Men invade another country. -Elayne Boosler- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ Behind every successful man is a surprised woman. -Maryon Pearson- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ I am a marvelous housekeeper. Every time I leave a man I keep his house. -Zsa Zsa Gabor- ++++++++++++++++++++++++ Nobody can make you feel inferior without your permission. -Eleanor Roosevelt- * * * * * [Thanks to the friend who pointed out this New York Times item I missed] The murderous attack on four American civilians in Falluja, Iraq ... introduced Americans to a company few had heard of: Blackwater USA, which was providing security for food delivery convoys when its employees were ambushed. ... [T]here is far less accountability to the American public and to international law than if real troops were performing the tasks. In the 1990's, several employees of one company, DynCorp, were implicated in a sex-trafficking scandal in Bosnia involving girls as young as 12. Had these men been soldiers, they would have faced court-martial proceedings. As private workers, they were simply put on the next plane back to America. ... * * * * * Borowitz Report Breaking News BUSH MISSED BILLBOARD OF OSAMA 60-Foot-Tall Sign Appeared Outside White House The Bush administration today grappled with allegations that President George W. Bush did not see a sixty-foot-tall billboard featuring Osama bin Laden that appeared suddenly across the street from the White House in August 2001. The gigantic billboard, which featured bin Laden's stern visage and the words "I AM GOING TO HIJACK U.S. AIRPLANES VERY SOON," was first spotted by a UPS driver, Clayton Spedding, while making his morning deliveries on Pennsylvania Avenue. "I was like, `Didn't there use to be a Bacardi ad up there?'" Mr. Spedding, 34, told reporters today. After making his startling discovery, Mr. Spedding called the White House, but was told to call back when he had "something more specific." As Mr. Bush's apparent failure to notice the bin Laden billboard ignited a new round of finger-pointing in Washington, the President went on the offensive, warning the al-Qaeda kingpin to make future terror threats more explicit or "face the consequences." ... * * * * * [From http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/opinion/13TUE1.html?th] Almost two-thirds of America's corporations paid no federal income taxes during the late 1990's, when corporate profits were soaring. Nine out of 10 companies paid less than the equivalent of 5 percent of their total income. ... Meanwhile, as David Cay Johnston reported in yesterday's Times, .... [o]ver the last decade, the audit rate for the largest corporations has fallen by almost half. ... Corporate taxes now account for about 7.5 percent of overall federal tax receipts, down from a high of 40 percent during World War II. [From http://www.nytimes.com/2004/04/13/national/13AIR.html?th] More than half the nation's population lives in or around areas that violate clean air standards, according to a list to be released on April 15 by the federal government. ... Rural communities will be affected along with at least seven national parks, including the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina and Tennessee, Acadia in Maine and Yosemite in California. * * * * * I'm told that these stories come from an ex-IRS employee: Caller: I want to know if I should file married or single. IRS: Are you married? Caller: Well, sort of ... IRS: What? Caller: Well, we did get married, but we're not counting on it. * Caller: I got a letter from you guys and I want to know what you want. IRS: What does it say? Caller: Just a minute, I'll open it. * Caller: I'm a bookkeeper and I need to know if ten $100 bills make a thousand dollars or only ten hundred dollars. IRS: Both. It's the same amount. Caller: So why do I get a different answer every time I move the decimal point? * Caller: What does the law say about people who are renting to relatives and taking a loss on the property? IRS: You are required to charge them fair market value. Caller: It's very fair. If we rented to someone else we could get a lot more. * Caller: Could you please send me some of those WD-40's? * * * * * The Washington Post's Style Invitational once again asked readers to take any word from the dictionary, alter it by adding, subtracting, or changing one letter, and supply a new definition. Here are this year's (2003) winners: Bozone (n.): The substance surrounding stupid people that stops bright ideas from penetrating. The bozone layer, unfortunately, shows little sign of breaking down in the near future. Intaxication: Euphoria at getting a tax refund, which lasts until you realize it was your money to start with. Reintarnation: Coming back to life as a hillbilly. Cashtration (n.): The act of buying a house, which renders the subject financially impotent for an indefinite period. Giraffiti: Vandalism spray painted very, very high. Sarchasm: The gulf between the author of sarcastic wit and the person who doesn't get it. Osteopornosis: A degenerate disease. (This one got extra credit.) Dopeler effect: The tendency of stupid ideas to seem smarter when they come at you rapidly. Arachnoleptic fit (n.): The frantic dance performed just after you've accidentally walked through a spider web. Beelzebug (n.): Satan in the form of a mosquito that gets into your bedroom at three in the morning and cannot be cast out. Caterpallor (n.): The color you turn after finding half a grub in the fruit you're eating. And the pick of the literature: Ignoranus: A person who's both stupid and a butthole.

External Hard Drive Problem: Cypress AT2LP RC58 Error

I bought an Apricorn EZ-Bus-DT (sometimes called an EZ Bus DT, without the hyphens) external hard drive enclosure from Newegg. I really liked it, and I got it with a big rebate, though now I see I could also have bought a discounted, refurbished one directly from the manufacturer, whose current products webpage led me to understand that this newly purchased product was no longer state-of-the-art. One day, the system stopped recognizing this external drive. Instead, I was getting a Found New Hardware dialog. It wanted me to insert my disk or install the drivers for a Cypress AT2LP RC58. I didn't know what that was, so I went online to research it. Sources there said that this meant the system was no longer recognizing my external hard drive enclosure, which apparently uses Cypress hardware. I verified that the problem was not just with my computer, by connecting the external drive to another computer, where I got the same message. The drive itself was fine, they said, but I would have to install it directly inside my computer as a slave if I wanted to access its data. I was hoping that the Apricorn would actually resume working, though, so I forged ahead in the search for alternatives. I found no FAQs at all on the Apricon support webpage, and they said no drivers were necessary for Windows XP. The product manual itself did not address any troubleshooting problems. I dropped them an e-mail and continued my search. A Google search turned up several hundred hits, from all over the world, so it seemed that this problem affected a number of users. I found no downloads for the AT2LP RC58 on the Cypress downloads page. For some reason, Cypress required me to register and log in before searching its webpage for a solution, so there would be no point providing links, here, to the various webpages I searched. (They kept requiring me to log in again and again when I checked those pages.) Suffice it to say that I found no answers in their Communities (which did not appear to be user forums in the usual sense), and eventually figured out that this was different from their Discussion Forums. I think I found the latter by using their Contact Us link and selecting Technical Support. (When I tried the link for actual technical support, a/k/a contact with a human, I got "Sorry, an error has occurred and has prevented your request from being processed." A search of their KnowledgeBase took me back to their homepage. In a general search for AT2LP across their webpage, I found a document called AN14569.pdf that alerted me to the existence of some software known as the Cypress Configuration Utility, which looked like it might enable the technically very knowledgeable user to reconfigure the programmable chip that was apparently responsible for the existence and possible resolution of this problem. I also found a link to a mass storage driver for various versions of Windows (including WinXP), but it dated from 2003, so I had to assume it was already incorporated in whatever I had done when I first received and installed the unit and found it to be working. I found a simplistic solution on the MVIXUSA.com webpage, but someone said that this did not resolve the problem for them. The MVIX solution appeared to be a shorthand version of a much longer and many-dimensioned investigation of the problem by Barrington Daltrey. His page offered a number of different possible solutions and perspectives on the issue. Someone posting in the Cypress forums (which I did ultimately find) offered this shorter summary of what was apparently Daltrey's most pithy suggestion, as follows: Downloading the files --------------------- 1. Download this file: http://daltrey.org/linux/DBFlash.exe. Save it to your desktop. 2. Double click the file. It will prompt you to choose a location to unzip it to. Doesn't matter where you put it - unzipping it to the Desktop is easiest. 3. Click "Unzip" 4. Go to your desktop and check that you have a new folder, called "PH-1003 EE SW". If so, you're good to move on. Installing the new driver ------------------------- 1. Click Start -> Control Panel 2. Double click "System". If you can't find an entry labeled "System", click "Switch to classic view" on the left hand side of the window, then check again. 3. Click the "Hardware" tab 4. Click "Device Manager". This will open the device manager, and let you view all your devices. 5. Find the Cypress entry. It should be pretty obvious. You might need to expand the "Universal Serial Bus controllers" section to find it. Most likely it will have a yellow question mark next to it. Once you find it, right click on it and select "Update driver...". 6. Select "No, not this time" and click "Next" 7. Select "Install from a list or specific location (Advanced)" and click "Next" 8. Select "Don't search. I will choose the driver to install." and click "Next" 9. If a big list of different types of devices appears, click "All devices" and click "Next". If you don't see this list, don't worry. 10. Click "Have Disk..." 11. Click "Browse..." 12. Browse to your desktop. Enter the "PH-1003 EE SW" folder. Enter the "Driver" folder. Select "CyUSB.inf" and click "Open" 13. Click "OK" 14. Click "Next" 15. Windows will now install the new driver. Once it's done, click "OK" or "Done" or whatever it says. 16. The question mark next to the Cypress device should now be gone. It's name might change too. 17. Reboot your computer. Resetting your hard drive's firmware ------------------------------------ 1. Back at your desktop, open up the "PH-1003 EE SW" folder. 2. Double click on "Primer.exe" 3. Wait... it should display some messages about plugging in your hard drive, then it should find the hard drive quickly and do some stuff before saying "Successful". 4. Shut down your computer 5. Unplug and turn off the hard drive. 6. Wait a moment... 7. Plug the hard drive back in and turn it on. 8. Turn the computer back on. 9. With any luck, once it boots it will show up as a hard drive again! I decided to wait for a response from Apricorn before undertaking all that. I also pondered the possibility of returning the unit to Newegg as defective. It wasn't entirely clear to me, from either Daltrey's long page (which I did not read word-for-word) or this summary, whether this would be a one-time fix, a reprogramming of the hardware, or whether this was instead a driver issue that might need to be repeated from time to time. A few days later, I did get a reply from Apricorn. Here's what they said:

Yes, it sounds like there is a problem with the USB controller chip. That is the default prom chip information. Please call support and have them set up a replacement for you. If this is not possible, you can send me your shipping and contact information and I can set it up for your, but it will be quicker if you can call in.
So I was pleased that I got tech support on it; pleased at the prospect of having a model that did not suffer from the problem ... and uncertain as to whether I wanted to keep the unit. I had meanwhile considered that maybe I should have bought a model that would handle SATA as well as IDE drives, since SATA was the wave of the future I already had one SATA drive that I thought I might be wanting to convert to external usage at some point. Preliminarily, though, it looked like those enclosures were more expensive, and anyway I didn't really need one right now. So I went ahead with Apricorn's RMA option. On that point, they were very cooperative. They took my credit card information and sent me a replacement unit, and they allowed extra time for my return under the RMA. The replacement enclosure worked without problems. One possibility is that I was more careful in never powering it down or switching it to the other computer when it was working. Basically, this meant that I always had to shut down the computer before switching, because the system tray icon for "Safely Remove Hardware" would always give me a message indicating that the hard drive can't be safely removed right now. My only other note on this item is that, as of this writing, it appeared Apricorn was going to screw me out of my rebate. I was really surprised. They had seemed like a class act. Maybe I can get them to get with the program on that. Not sure.

Monday, December 3, 2007

On Mortgages: Beware Henry Paulson?

It seems like whatever Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson says tends to be the exact opposite of what is actually happening. I don't mean any unkindness toward the man. I don't really know much about him. It's just that it seems like every time he makes a prediction or offers an assurance, he's dead wrong -- in 2007, at least, which is when I've started to notice it. Really, it has seemed to me that a shrewd investor could do worse than to listen to Paulson, assume that reality was exactly the opposite, and invest on that basis. I could go back and dig out examples, but I won't bother. I just mean to say that ... well, here. Here's an excerpt from a CNN article published today:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- The U.S. government is working hard to give relief to struggling mortgage holders, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson said Monday. ... Paulson outlined the latest government and industry efforts to help struggling home owners keep their homes. ... He stopped short, however, on providing further details on a plan to freeze mortgage rates .... Part of the difficulty is that these loans have been securitized and sold to investors all over the world, he said. The mortgage servicers are limited in the decisions they may make on behalf of these investors. ... The Treasury Department is leading the effort to streamline the loan modification process, according to Paulson, so that it acts in the best interests of both borrowers and investors. But he stopped short of calling for an interest rate freeze for borrowers with resetting ARMs. Investors in mortgage-backed securities represent one of the most significant barriers to freezing loan rates. The American Securitization Forum (ASF), which represents investors, does not support broad-brush, across-the-board solutions to the subprime ARM crisis. ... Critics say Paulson's outline doesn't go far enough. ... "It's a total joke," said Shea. "It helps. Don't get me wrong. . . .But it's disappointing that we are nearly a year into the crisis and the Treasury Secretary is dealing with the easiest part of the problem."
Here's an excerpt from another CNN item, also posted today, that conveys how one significant investor does see the future of mortgage investments:
NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- In another sign of the collapse of the market for new homes, builder Lennar Corp. has dumped a portfolio of 11,000 properties for 40 percent of their previously-stated book value.
Sooo ... it should continue to get interesting ...

Saturday, December 1, 2007

WinXP Loops at Startup: Loading, Saving, Logging Off -- Forever

I started Windows XP after restoring a previous drive image backup to drive C. It wouldn't start properly. It kept looping between messages that it was "Loading your personal settings" and "Logging off" and "Saving your settings." That happened when I tried to boot WinXP normally, and also when I tried booting into Safe Mode or using Last Known Good Configuration. Some people seemed to be having this problem in connection with Blazefind, which I gather is some form of spyware. Of the numerous posts I saw on that problem, one on Tom's Hardware seemed to provide as good as any an explanation of how to solve the problem. Another one on WinXPTutor also had information that may help in some cases. But I didn't have the Blazefind problem. I did try the registry edit recommended by WinXPTutor, but that, by itself, did not solve the problem. Since I could not run Regedit from within WinXP, and since WinXP's Recovery Console does not have a registry editing tool, I used the free download BartPE, which I loaded from a bootable CD created with the help of the Bart PE website. In BartPE, I was able to use Go > Run > Regedit. I did find that the value for Userinit.exe, which I was supposed to be editing in Regedit, was not what people were saying on various webpages. So after making it read as the WinXPTutor webpage said, I looked at a Microsoft troubleshooting webpage. I was prepared to do it their way, bu then I saw that WinXP had replaced what I had entered in the registry after the previous reboot. The registry entry was back to what it had been before. It referred to a nonexistent drive X. I tinkered around and found that Regedit in BartPE did appear to be saving the thing properly. So evidently WinXP was revising it back to X on reboot. The recurring registry entry was pointing to a drive X, which I didn't have. So I looked at the accompanying Microsoft webpage that had to do with changing the system/boot drive letter. They pointed me toward HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\MountedDevices which, sure enough, did have a reference to drive X. But their instructions told me to change it to drive C (after renaming drive C to something else). That didn't make sense to me, since I did want to retain my other programs' references to drive C. (Bart PE was also seeing drive C correctly.) So I tried just deleting the reference to drive X at that registry location. But that didn't fix the problem on reboot. Not only did the system still loop as before, but back in Bart PE the registry was still pointing the system to drive X, and the reference to drive X in Mounted Devices was back too. So this time, I did exactly what Microsoft said, or as nearly as I could under the circumstances of my own system (their example didn't exactly fit my situation), exited Regedit and BartPE, and rebooted -- back into BartPE, to see whether the changes were being saved. They weren't. Or at least the Mounted Drives one wasn't; I'm not sure if I checked the other one at this point. It seemed that BartPE wasn't able to save registry changes. I wasn't sure if the problem was just BartPE. So I exported those registry changes, from within Regedit, to REG files. Then I went to Bart PE's version of Windows Explorer (Go > Programs > A43 File Management Utility) and ran those REG files, adding them back to the registry. All seemed to function just as normal in Windows. I then looked at the registry locations in question. Now I saw that the changes had indeed been made. Instead, the problem was that the reference to drive X was being recreated despite my efforts. That is, the new drive T that I had created, trying to follow Microsoft's instructions, was still there; it's just that X was back. So I reviewed Microsoft's instructions and saw that I had neglected one final step. I had failed to run Regedt32 and reset the administrator privileges for Mounted Devices to Read Only. After doing that, once again I rebooted into Bart PE. None of the changes had been saved. I was back to square one. I tried it once more. This time, I did not do what may have been a mistake on the previous try: I did not uncheck the Read box on the Administrator permissions. Doing so had caused the Administrator option to vanish from the dialog box. This time, instead, I left Read permission in place after making the other changes. I mickey-moused around with this for quite a while, but got no joy. This approach basically didn't work for me, as I found upon repeated attempts to reboot into WinXP. In Recovery Console, I tried FIXBOOT and FIXMBR once more, just for old times' sake, and rebooted once again into WinXP. Same situation as before. I was kicking myself for not having used the WinXP backup program to save the system state. Bizarrely, my two most recent Drive Image backups were showing up as corrupt when I tried to restore them, despite that I had verified them with Image Explorer when I had made them. What I had restored was the most recent one, just a few days old; but it was not working. Acting on a tip I had seen in one post, I tried another approach. On another computer, I used Image Explorer to extract three files from my most recent Drive Image backup. The three files were named SYSTEM, SOFTWARE, and SECURITY (with no extensions, i.e., not SYSTEM.EXE). They were found in C:\WINDOWS\system32\config. Someone's comment led me to understand that these files held the contents of several of the main branches of the registry. I burned them to a CD and was going to use Bart PE to copy them to the same folder on the target machine. It was about this time that I discovered why that reference to drive X had been so recurrent. Drive X was my CD drive. I was an idiot. I don't know how it ceased to be drive Z, which was what I had long intended it to be, and when it became drive X. But there it was. So that explained why I couldn't get that durned registry to stop referring to drive X. Anyway, now I went ahead and tried to use BartPE to copy the files from that CD to that folder. But BartPE needed its own CD to be in the drive, so this didn't work. I couldn't get it to recognize a jump drive, either, so I rebooted into the WinXP Recovery Console and tried there. But although the WinXP CD said it was loading USB drivers, it didn't recognize the USB drive. Of course, it also wouldn't let me remove itself for a minute to copy from the CD, either. So I had to actually shuffle some hard drives to get those files into that C:\Windows\system32\config folder on the target drive. Well, and that made a difference! At least when I rebooted, I did not immediately fall into the load-save-logoff loop. Instead, I got a dialog: "The system could not log you on. Make sure your User name and domain are correct, then type your password again," etc. So I did. And I was in! That was the solution.