bobquasit: (Default)
My computer is dying even more quickly than I expected. The mouse is now failing more than half the time. When I unplug it and plug it back in, I get an error message telling me that Windows can't recognize this strange USB device. Software is failing without explanation or warning.

I've backed up a lot of stuff - this will not kill me. And I'm working on backing up the few remaining key files (like pictures and video). But I need to figure out what to do next. Should I reinstall Windows? I think I can dig up the original installation disk. Do I need to reformat my hard drive first? That prospect worries me a lot, because there's data I'd definitely lose - not critical data, but useful stuff.

Any suggestions or advice?
bobquasit: (Default)
Okay, here's a possibility. Tell me what you think. I'm not married to this or anything, and it's really more than I should spend...hell, it doesn't even include a monitor. And I'm still not determined to go to PCs for Everyone. So please be honest!

Has anyone tried NewEgg? Are they good?
bobquasit: (Default)
My computer is dying fast. Windows has been coming up with major system errors that Microsoft apparently doesn't know how to fix. The CD drive fails more often than it works. The mouse has been spontaneously disconnecting and reconnecting every few minutes (and I've checked, the plug is firmly in place). Sometimes the cursor disappears completely. Strange system warnings have been appearing.

I've updated all my security software, but it didn't make a difference.

So I need more advice from computer-savvy people out there.

First: I am NOT insisting on any particular brand. All I want is a reliable system running Windows XP (any kind) that I can use for the usual computer stuff, plus running modern games like Guild Wars and Oblivion (but not necessarily the latest first-person shooters). I also want to be able to convert LPs to CDs and old VHS tapes into DVDs.

I'd like the vendor to be in business for a few years, so that if I have a problem they can fix it. Other than that, I don't care.

My understanding is that I'll need a TV card, probably a Hauppage. I'll also need a decent video card; unfortunately I don't know a lot about those.

As far as I know, I should get at least 2 GB of RAM.

Oh, and my budget is probably under $1,000.

Some questions:

What's a good CPU? Will a Dual-Core Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E6750 2.66GHz 1333FSB 4MB Cache suffice?

For a video card, will a MSI nVidia GeForce 8400GS 512MB DDR2 PCI Express (1xDVI 1xVGA) be good enough? I really don't know much about video cards.

Is it worthwhile to get a card reader? They're pretty cheap, but I don't know what I'd use one for!

What's RAID? Should I get it?

Is there a meaningful difference between a Hauppauge Win TV-PVR-150 MCE (PCI), a Hauppauge Win TV-HVR-1600 MC (PCI), and a Hauppauge Win TV-HVR-1800 MC (PCI-Express)? I'm not planning on watching TV on my computer - or not much, anyway. I just want to be able to convert old videos!

Windows XP. Home? Professional? Professional 64-bit?
bobquasit: (Default)
I work with data. And I suspect that the sort of thing I do isn't done by many people. So this will probably either be meaningless to you, painfully obvious, or boring - take your pick.

That doesn't mean I won't subject you to it, of course. :D

One of the things I do involves cleaning name data. This generally arrives in Excel format (and if it doesn't, I get pissed off). It can range anywhere from a few dozen names to a few thousand, and I've had files of over a hundred thousand names come in. Fortunately, that's rare.

The problem is that the data is almost always really shitty. In part this is because it was put together or maintained by people who either didn't care about the data, or didn't really understand it. It's also true that in some cases the ultimate source of that data is a competitor who knew that we'd be working with that data. I'm pretty sure they try to make it as difficult as possible.

Just to give you an idea, it's not uncommon to see data like this, all in a single column:

Brown, Robert Q.
Harold ZbeodkwsiMr.
John B BodyLiesAMoulderinInTheGrave
OBRIEN, Seamus

My goal is to create clean last and first name fields as quickly and accurately as possible. I simply don't have the time to go through each record in a thousands-plus name file, though. So I've evolved a lot of little tricks over the years. These generally involve searching and replacing with wildcards in various ways. If you don't know, the wildcard characters are "*" and "?". The asterisk represents any number of characters, and the question mark represents a single character.

But lately I've been seeing a new problem: somebody is throwing wildcards into the data. Specifically, asterisks. The problem is that if I try to do a global search and replace to remove "*", I end up deleting ALL the data - the "*" is taken by Excel as a wildcard. It's quite an annoying little trap.

It may not be intentional, of course; it could just be various idiots trying to "footnote" the data, although I've never seen an actual footnote in a name file.

But I thought of a solution, and had the pleasure of having the first thing I tried work perfectly. I copied the entire column and threw it into a Windows NotePad file. My hunch was that NotePad was just basic enough to not have the wildcard replace option. And it doesn't; a search and replace of "*" with nothing works perfectly. Then I copied the data from NotePad, pasted it back into Excel, and voila! clean data.

Which still has to be worked on, of course, but at least I've gotten rid of those damned asterisks.
bobquasit: (Default)
Okay. I've got my bonus, and my computer's hard drive seems to be getting unreliable. Plus the sound card and DVD-ROM are shot, and the CD burner is getting quite iffy. So it would seem that it's time to get a new computer, while I can.

I could use some advice and suggestions, though.

Here's what I want in a system:

1. able to convert videos into DVDs.
2. able to convert cassette tapes and LPs into CDs
3. able to play modern games such as Fable and Oblivion.
4. The usual other capabilities.

Now, I'm thinking of going to PCs for Everyone. I got the system before the last one from there, and possibly the one before that. They had a great reputation for years, and their systems were reasonably priced and used high-quality parts.

But a few years ago they closed their brick-and-mortar location and became a net-only company. They're still in business, but I'm not in touch with any of the people I used to know who used them. So it's possible that they've gone downhill; I don't know.

Looking at their website, I see two options: a system built on a AMD Sempron processor, or one built on a AMD Athalon 64 x2 Dual-Core processor. They're the AMD 1000 and AMD 2000 series, both of which can be viewed here.

I'd customize them a bit, of course. But I'm not an expert on hardware, so I could use some advice. And if anyone has suggestions on somewhere else to buy the system, or on processors other than the ones I've suggested here - heck, on ANYTHING to do with the system - please let me know! That includes software. I'm assuming that I'll go with Windows XP, since by all accounts Vista sucks, but if you think that's a mistake do tell me.

Just one thing: I'm not going with a Mac. I hate Macs!
bobquasit: (Default)
The CD-ROM in my computer is dying. It has been freezing up pretty often; if I'm playing a game that uses it, that freezes up my whole system for a while. Sometimes the light on the front of it turns yellow and just starts blinking on and off, regularly, like a metronome.

Just one more reason for me to think about getting a new system soon.


Jan. 5th, 2008 10:52 pm
bobquasit: (Default)
Lots to catch up on.

NeverWinter Nights
I managed to take my second fighter one level higher than the first and win the game. In the process, I discovered something annoying; I still couldn't get a +4 weapon, and when fighting in that bottleneck ("strange courtyard") I still kept getting "weapon ineffective!" messages. But something was somehow hurting the enemies, and I managed to kill them without dying.

Then I discovered that you can take your character online to a solo multiplayer game and play the most experience-rich areas of the final chapter to level up. It's not hard; it takes less than four 20-minute play-throughs to get your character up a level, even from 19 to 20! Then you can play the character in local solo play at the new, raised level.

But the ending was lame. There had been strong hints at romance with the main heroine/villainess (as well as with at least one of the henchwomen, which seemed odd; is polygamy common in the Forgotten Realms?), but the end didn't even mention her or, well, anything. It was just one of those lame "the adventure continues!" bits, nothing more than an advertisement for upcoming supplements.

And believe me, NWN's cutscenes aren't made with 1/1000 the skill of any of Blizzard's cutscenes. They were simply lame.

Nonetheless after Christmas I went to Best Buy and picked up the Diamond edition of NWN (and Same & Max Season One as well, but I've only just started playing that). I took it home and was surprised that it was only one disk; it was supposed to contain not only my original edition of NWN, but two major sequels and some additional campaigns as well. I chalked it up to improvements in compression algorithms, or the possibility that the original game had been pretty small; it was old, after all.

Yes, I'm an idiot. It was a DVD-ROM. I didn't figure that out until after I'd opened it up and put it in the CD-ROM drive with no reaction.

Now, my computer has a DVD-ROM. But like so much of the rest of the system, it's a cheap piece of shit. It hasn't worked since the second month after I bought the damned system. Sometimes it shows up on My Computer, but that's rare - and even when it does, it almost never actually works. It doesn't open, or respond to the "Eject" command, or anything.

The girl at Best Buy was pretty rude when I tried to exchange it for a CD-ROM version of the same game; she copped a big attitude. I told her that I'd called and confirmed that it could be exchanged for the CD-ROM version, and she acted like she was a queen being asked by a commoner to wipe his ass. Unfortunately in this case the queen won, because there IS NO CD-ROM version of Neverwinter Nights Diamond. I went back to the customer service desk to tell them that, and they looked at me like I was a fucking bug. See if I ever shop at Best Buy again!

Anyway, it seems that I have a shiny $20 coaster until I buy a computer with a DVD-Rom...which will be never, at the rate things are going.

Desktop Tower Defense
Is anyone else playing this? It's pretty damned addictive. If you haven't tried it, it's a free browser-based game.

I played it a lot, never managing to win but (of course) doing better and better as time passed. Recently I made a breakthrough, and today I was able to beat it in Medium mode without losing a single life. Here's how the board looked at the end:

The trick is to use the cheapest towers to build most of your maze, and concentrate on upgrading key towers to the most powerful form. I first managed to win by upgrading Pellet towers to long-range Snipers; I'd ignored them at first because the game describes them as "cheap", but eventually suspected that this was misdirection. It was, and it wasn't. The thing to remember is that one upgraded tower does more damage for the money than two less-upgraded ones. If you pump up each tower all the way to the final upgrade, your firepower will be maximized. Also, placement is helpful. I concentrated my towers in the center, so as to be able to concentrate fire both on the land-based creeps and the air-creeps which sail right over the towers. Speaking of air creeps, I found that Squirt towers upgraded to the max were highly effective both against ground and air; one centrally-located maxed Swarm tower (air-only) bracketed by a couple of maxed Squirts was all I needed to handle the final two Air bosses. As soon as they'd passed I sold the Swarm and used the money to quickly max out two or three more Squirts. I didn't lose a single life.

A couple of other points: it's a good idea to have at least a couple of maxed Freeze towers spaced early in the line of flight (west and north) of the air creeps, but not too close to the edges. They freeze both air and ground creeps, slowing and damaging them; this allows your Squirts to take them out more quickly. Another good idea is to make sure that your areas of fire are not wasted. Many of the towers have an enlarged area of fire in their final form, and if much of that area is off the edge of the field, you're wasting potential attacks.

I noticed that it was possible to screw around with the creeps by removing a key tower, giving them a shortcut; they'd turn around and head towards the opening, which (of course) I plugged before they could reach it. Then they'd turn back, giving my Squirts more time to attack. But it wasn't worth it. The countdown timer is always running, so the next wave comes on and you don't get much of a benefit from having the previous wave run back and forth. Plus there's the risk that the new wave will actually make it through the shortcut.

I also tried a diagonal maze - a lot - but ended up feeling that it wasn't as efficient as the straight(ish)-line maze.

Almost forgot: my top score so far is position 234435 with 6882 points, no lives lost.

Whew! Long post!
bobquasit: (Default)
They'd told me that they were going to call an internet supervisor, and that he'd contact me on Saturday. He didn't call.

So yesterday I called them, because the internet was going up and down like a jackhammer. They told me that the rule was that an internet supervisor couldn't be involved until there had been TWO visits by a repair guy. So I made an appointment for one to come over again. Incidentally, while I was on the phone the guy at the office confirmed that I'd had 37 disconnects in the past hour.

The technician came by today, looked things over, and told me that he couldn't find any problems. Although the internet connection was down for a good half hour this morning, it had no problems while he was here. He seemed to feel that I was imagining the problem. He also suggested that my ethernet card might be going bad.

But he said he'd check the outside wiring and cable box. He went outside, went up the pole...and a while later, he just took off. Didn't come back and say he couldn't find a problem, didn't come back at all - he just disappeared without a word.

In the meantime, our internet connection failed again.

I called Cox to find out whether our appointment was over. They told me that it was, and that it had been recorded that there were no problems.

What pisses me off most is that I can only assume that the technician - Eric - must have decided that I was completely full of shit and that trying to tell me that there was no problem was only going to be a waste of his time.

I'm really pissed off. So now I'm monitoring for more connectivity failures. Once I get three of them, I'm calling Cox back.

I really wanted to believe that Cox was a good company. They're relatively small and (I believe) family-owned. Until now we'd gotten good service.


Feb. 24th, 2007 12:52 pm
bobquasit: (Sebastian Riding)
This morning Sebastian woke us up with a shriek:


And it sure did. Before long he threw up all over the dining-room rug and the bathroom floor. I placed a request for a call-back from to his doctor this morning; ironically, Teri called me at 12:17 PM from the animal shelter to see if the doctor had called, and when I hung up, voicemail informed me that the doctor had tried to call us at 12:18 PM.

Sigh. I've called back, and he'll try us again soon.

In the meantime, our internet connection has been as horrible as ever. I've tried to measure disconnects this morning, and there have been 13 of them. Mind you, I haven't been re-starting as soon as the connection is broken; I can only check the computer once in a while, since most of the time I'm taking care of Sebastian. He's resting on the couch, drinking a bit of chicken soup and watching The Yellow Submarine.

I used my cell phone to call Cox Cable (I'm not taking a chance on missing the doctor's call again), and they're going to have a supervisor call me (on the cell). The tech was able to confirm that my connection is totally insane, just as I knew. Sometimes an hour can go by with no problem, but at other times there have been 37 losses of signal in an hour.

He also told me that with the "premium" service we're supposed to be getting, I should have download speeds of 15 megabytes per second. One megabyte per minute is closer to what I'm getting off the Cox news server, so that's going to be addressed, too.
bobquasit: (Default)
The den was an INCREDIBLE disaster area (see my previous post). I'll admit it: I'm an incredible slob. The floor was so packed with books and papers that it was difficult to walk in the den.

I was dead tired yesterday, so I originally planned to just work until bedtime and then go to sleep. After all, why should I kill myself to make the room clean for a repairman? But once I settled in to the job, I really settled in. By the time I was done it was well past midnight. My clothes were literally soaking with sweat, my back hurt like hell, I had a large garbage bag full to bursting with trash...and the den was much cleaner then I had planned.

The closet is packed with papers and wires and junk, but the floor is completely clean and the room looks decent. It desperately needs a vacuuming, but there was no way I was going to vacuum at midnight. Sebastian would wake up for sure.

So after all that...the repair guy came and couldn't find any problem!

Mind you, the modem is still spontaneously disconnecting, frequently. At least once per hour, and often more. So when I get home, I'm going to place a cranky call to Cox.

Incidentally, in the morning Sebastian was quite surprised at how clean the den had become overnight. I think I impressed him.
bobquasit: (Default)
Over the past month or two I've been pretty sure that our connection to the internet has been disconnected intermittantly and frequently. It was most obvious when I was playing on, but even during browsing there were times when the problem was clear.

I spent about half an hour on the phone with customer support today, and finally reached a person. Fortunately he was willing to listen and not assume that I was an idiot, so I told him up front that I'd already run through all the standard diagnostics. He checked, and it turned out that my cable modem had spontaneously disconnected 22 times in the past hour. It's three years old, and I guess it's ready to die.

So we'll be getting a free new modem which should be a bit faster and more reliable.
bobquasit: (Sam - Holy ^@%#!)
My computer just started making clickity-click noises again, as it did quite some time ago. But I think I just figured out why: it's the DVD-ROM, going in and out of existence. As I mentioned recently, it spontaneously came back after a couple of years of being broken; recently, I noticed that it was gone again. I'm really pretty sure that the goddamned thing is spazzing in and out of workability.

I wonder what I should do about that?
bobquasit: (Sam - Holy ^@%#!)
After two or three years of being dead, my DVD-ROM has suddenly come back to life. I can't explain it.

Unfortunately the only DVD-ROM game I have, Dragon's Lair, won't play unless I buy some third party DVD software. Which is a pity; Sebastian has seen the promos for Dragon's Lair and Space Ace, and he's dying to see the whole things.
bobquasit: (Default)
I forgot to say: I ran full scans on both of my hard drives, doing full surface scans and automatic fixes. Both scans completed without any alerts. And the machine has stopped making that noise - it's acting like nothing happened, the lying, treacherous piece of hardware.

You know, for some reason I think that maybe a year or two ago the machine made the same sound, and stopped just as suddenly. I should search my journal to see if I wrote about it...
bobquasit: (Default)
My computer just started making a scary sound this morning - kind of a "Whirrrr, whirrr, CLICK! Whirrrr, whirrr, CLICK!". For some reason I suspect this could mean that one of the hard drives is crashing. It started terribly slowly, but it did start eventually and I was able to create and print Sebastian's letter from Santa Claus. Still, I'm pretty worried.

My most important stuff is saved on GMail, but a lot of my photos aren't - there are just too many of them. It would take twenty CDs just to save my photos and videos from 2006 alone! Which is another good reason to get a new computer. A DVD-ROM would be awfully useful now.

I've run a full scandisk on the older, slave drive, including a full surface scan. It apparently checked out okay. I'll run a scan on the main drive when I get home tonight.
bobquasit: (Default)
Okay, here are the two options that I'm looking at.

Option #1 (Essential system):

  • Chip: AMD Sempron 2800+ 1.6GHz - HyperTransport - 256KB Cache
  • Motherboard: MSI RS482M-IL - mainboard - micro ATX - Radeon Xpress 200M
  • DDR Memory (RAM): 2 x Crucial 512MB PC3200 400MHz DDR
  • Video card: MSI nVidia 7300GS 256MB DDRII PCI Express (1xDVI 1xVGA)
  • CD/DVD drive/writer: Sony 16x DVD+/-RW D-Layer BLK
  • Sound card: integrated audio on motherboard

Total: $549

Option #2 (Performance system):

  • Chip: AMD Athlon 64 3000+ 1.8GHz - HyperTransport - 512KB Cache
  • Motherboard: ASUS A8N-E - mainboard - ATX - nForce4 Ultra
  • DDR Memory (RAM): 2 x Crucial 512MB PC3200 400MHz DDR
  • Video card: MSI nVidia 7300GS 256MB DDRII PCI Express (1xDVI 1xVGA)
  • CD/DVD drive/writer: Sony 16x DVD+/-RW D-Layer BLK
  • Sound card: integrated audio on motherboard

Total: $675

To be honest, I don't know if we can manage #2...that price will definitely strain our budget. Any thoughts on the technical aspects would be very appreciated, keeping in mind that I am NOT an expert on this stuff!

PC, yes!

Apr. 19th, 2006 11:24 am
bobquasit: (CartoonMe)
PCs For Everyone just replied, and now that they know that my copy of XP is retail, they have no problem installing my old hard drive in a new system.

Now it's time for me and Teri to look at the numbers.

Here's the setup that I'm considering. I don't understand all the specs, of course, so I'm working in the dark a bit. Suggestions and comments would be welcome.

  • Chip: AMD Sempron 2800+ 1.6GHz - HyperTransport - 256KB Cache

  • Motherboard: MSI RS482M-IL - mainboard - micro ATX - Radeon Xpress 200M

  • DDR Memory (RAM): Crucial 512MB PC3200 400MHz DDR

  • Video card: MSI nVidia 7300GS 256MB DDRII PCI Express (1xDVI 1xVGA)

    (yes, I know it's a PCI. AGP isn't an option in this price range.)

  • CD/DVD drive/writer: Sony 16x DVD+/-RW D-Layer BLK

  • Sound card: Creative Sound Blaster Live! 24-bit

Everything else is the default, but PCs for Everyone's defaults are always good. Of course there's no drive and no OS, which saves about $180.

Total: $511

I have 200 saved for it already, so I'm on the way.


Apr. 17th, 2006 11:17 pm
bobquasit: (Prisoner)
For those who haven't listened to my recent voice posts, a quick recap:

I bought a video card today. Everyone tells me it's easy to replace one, but I'm nervous. So I didn't start changing the cards tonight. And now, I'm thinking that's a good thing.

I just found out that my current video card is PCI. The one I bought is AGP, of course.

The bastard (and that word is MUCH too mild) that I bought my system from really used the absolute cheapest, shittiest components he possibly could. Which explains why the system has already had the hard drive fail and required a major rebuild.

I'm pretty sure that the motherboard is PCI only, but I don't know for sure. Under system properties it says that there's a PCI bus, and I see nothing at all about AGP, so I'm now 98.5% certain that this is a PCI motherboard.

Translation: I am screwed.

I can return the video card, hopefully for a cash refund, rather than store credit. But now I have to seriously wonder if it's not worth trying to upgrade this system. Perhaps I should have the decent elements of the system pulled out and used in a new system?

But the problem is that probably almost EVERYTHING in the system is the cheapest possible. I know that the main hard drive is good, because it's a replacement that I had to buy myself. I bought my own copy of Windows XP, so I shouldn't need to pay for that again. The processor is an AMD Athalon XP 1700+. I have 512 MB of RAM, although it's probably not good RAM - I don't know.

The sound card is crap. It's a Soundblaster, but it never worked right - ever. Static and garbage. A pocket AM radio sounds better.

The new hard drive is 114GB. The older (functioning) one is 55GB.

The monitor is 19 inches, and it's fine.

I could call PCs for Everyone and see what they could do. I suspect they'd tell me to replace everything except the hard drives; I might be able to get a very basic system for about $400. Assuming I can recover the $100 from the video card, I'd be looking at an additional $300. We're in a better position to afford that now than in a long time.

What should I do?


Apr. 13th, 2006 03:25 pm
bobquasit: (Omac)
I need to make some choices, and I could use some advice.

There are two different computer games that I'm thinking of buying: Guild Wars, and Oblivion. Both are getting outstanding reviews, with Oblivion (in my judgement) getting slightly better ones.

Oblivion, by all accounts, is an incredibly detailed and cool solo game, with a world that's so dense that you can ignore the main story line and head off in a thousand other directions.

Guild Wars was created by the people who made Diablo. It's an MMORPG, but it doesn't have a monthly fee; instead, you buy expansion packs if you want to be able to make use of added functionality.

They both cost $49.95 downstairs in Best Buy.

Oblivion interests me slightly more, but of course as a solo it's more lonely. On the other hand, that doesn't sound like such a bad thing. I've been staying up way the hell too late lately, and if I'm gaming with other people, I'll be more likely to kill myself with lack of sleep.

On the other hand, the video card on my computer might not be able to play either one of them. It's a GeForce 2 (I'll look up the exact specs later). Guild Wars requires an ATI Radeon 9000 or a GeForce 4 Ti series with 64 MB of memory. Oblivion requires an ATI X800 series, NVIDIA GeForce 6800 series, or better.

I suppose I could get a new video card, although I'd be nervous about trying to install it on my own; my track record isn't good. Still...what do you think I should do?


Dec. 25th, 2005 10:40 pm
bobquasit: (Default)
I'm not easy to shop for.

Most of the things I want are rare, highly obscure, or expensive. Often they're all three.

"I hate giving you computer games," she said, "because I know that I won't see you for months."

She was exaggerating, of course. But there's an element of truth in her words, too; when I have a new game, I'm an addict. I steal what time I can to play. I stay up late at night, on far too many nights, playing.

So I was more than a little surprised when I saw the Fable game for the PC inside the wrapping of one of the Christmas presents she gave me.

It cost $50. No, we can't afford it. But she got it for me.

I wanted to install it right away. She wanted me to wait. I agreed, reluctantly.

Christmas night came, and she and Sebastian went to sleep. I went to my computer and installed Fable. It took a while - there are four disks. Once I was done, I double-clicked on the Fable icon.

There was a pause, and then a message informed me that my video hardware was totally inadequate to play Fable. When I tried to proceed in Safe mode, the game terminated. I tried again, and again, and each time the game terminated before it could begin.

It was hard not to feel bitter. This was yet another legacy of the screwing I got from a sleazy local computer store owner - he'd lied to me and built my computer with the cheapest components available. Then he went out of business and disappeared.

It's possible that in two or three years I'll be able to afford a new, cheap computer that will be able to play Fable, but there's certainly no guarantee of that.

But she knew that this game would take me away from her and Sebastian. She hated that...and she bought it for me anyway.

I thought about that, looked over in the mirror, and smiled.

And it wasn't a bitter smile at all.

Merry Christmas.


bobquasit: (Default)

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