Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Security Tip: Patching

A few weeks ago I mentioned how anti-virus software isn't the end-all of computer security.  One of the most important parts of computer security is keeping all you programs up-to-date.  Windows does an all right job if you have automatic updates installed (and you install them right away).  But most other programs will only tell you when you run them again.  So if you have an application that hasn't been patched in a while, you could be vulnerable to some malware attacks.

I found an app called Secunia Personal Software Inspector that, like an antivirus program, will run scans on your computer on a predefined schedule.  It looks for any program that is not up-to-date and give you a link to the program's update page.  Their download page claims that 98 out of 100 computers have insecure programs on them.  If you don't think you need this, just make sure that you don't postpone any software updates.  If you're worried about the new fixes messing up the current configuration of the program, get a test computer and test out the new updates.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A Statement of My LDS/Christian/Mormon Beliefs


I thought this might be an appropriate place to share a little bit more of my beliefs, a small effort at building the internet's storage of positive information on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Jesus Christ is the creator of this earth, he is our Savior, and will be our judge at the last day.  It is only through him that we have any hope of salvation.  There is nothing we can do of our own accord that will ensure us a place in Heaven.  Christ took upon him all the sins of those who have been on this earth and ever will be on this earth and only requires of us that we follow his counsel.

The Lord speaks to his people through prophets.  This has always been the case.  From Genesis to the present time the Lord uses special people on earth to warn, guide, and direct us amidst all the confusion and destruction in the world.  After a time of much darkness, known as the middle or dark ages, the Lord called another prophet to lead us in the last and greatest dispensation.  Joseph Smith, through the guidance of Jesus Christ, restored the fulness of the gospel to the earth and organized a church that consists of the same organization that existed in the primitive church.  After his death, the Lord chose another prophet and so on throughout the years until today.  Thomas S. Monson is our current prophet and continues to provide us with the direction the Lord wishes us to follow.

The Bible is the word of God as far as it is translated correctly.  The Book of Mormon is a second witness of the divinity of our Savior Jesus Christ.  It was written and compiled by ancient prophets who lived on the continents of North and South America.  Jesus Christ visited this people after his resurrection and taught them the same things that had been taught at Jerusalem.

Talking with different people I've seen that it isn't very common for children raised in one religion to stick with that religion when they become adults.  Everyone has to come to a point where they question whether what they're being taught is true or is just some fanciful tale made to keep people from reality.   I was taught (see James 1:5) that if I wanted to know what the truth was, I simply needed to ask.  I've asked, but didn't get an audible yes.  I've realized that the answer has come through small, yet noticeable feelings.  These feelings are not the same you get after watching an emotionally moving movie (though the Spirit of Christ can certainly touch your heart if what you've learned is true and should be applied to your life), or an energized sermon, etc.  They're feelings of peace and surety, knowing that what has transpired could only come from above; and that's how I know that what I believe is true.

God does not want us to believe that everything divine is a mystery or so complex that we can't approach him.  If you've never read the Book of Mormon or chatted with any of the young men in white shirts riding bikes (LDS missionaries), check them out and ask God if what they teach isn't true.

Monday, December 15, 2008

BitPim: Easily Manage Any Cellphone


I have a Motorola Razr and find it extremely annoying to enter in contacts, calendar appointments, or do anything but call people on it.  I have no real need for a blackberry or other type of smartphone; I'd rather not be that attached to work.

The other day I came across what could be a dream come true.  There's an application called BitPim that allows you to sync your phone's data (contacts, calendar, photos, music, text messages, etc.) to your computer, edit it there and then re-sync it.  So ideally you could manage your calendar from your computer, or import a list of contacts from a .csv file and virtually anything else that makes your non-smart phone that much more useful. 

I did have some initial problems getting setup, but this website helped me get the necessary drivers I needed to get my computer to recognize my phone.  There are some other quirky things with it, it doesn't seem to be super reliable; but I have been able to successfully download my contacts and pictures so far, and was able to upload a new set of contacts (I downloaded my ward directory from lds.org in a .csv file and loaded it into my phone in a snap!)

I'll keep playing around with it and follow up with any new finds.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The Sound of Music

Though my "CD collection looks shiny and costly" it is not quite as extensive as some I've seen. I consider myself to have a very broad taste for music, and I'm always ready to try something new. I thought I'd share a few things that have helped my love for music grow.

Internet Radio

I've tried last.fm, Pandora.com, iTunes, and a few others. I am overwhelmingly pleased with Pandora. Though it doesn't always guess the music that you like and sometimes plays the same songs over and over it's my favorite. As long has you have a station for every style of music you like (you have to have a broad taste for this to work) you will be endlessly supplied with music you like as well as music worth investigating further.

Buying Music

I used to buy CD's until very recently. I signed up with yourmusic.com which ships you a new CD every month for only $7.50, a pretty good deal, if you don't mind purchasing the entire album. I found that there are very few artists for whom I will spend more than $10 on their new album. So I've switched to buying music digitally, and I avoid iTunes and Walmart like the plague. I hate digital rights managment (DRM), it's a nightmare for anyone who like to have their music in more places than just their computer or who don't own an iPod. Amazon.com and lala.com are two places where you can buy DRM-free music, which means there is no security software keeping you from transfering your files to a backup drive and allow you to play it when you restore those files on a new computer.

Buying digitally allows you to only get the songs that you like. Some musicians feel that this is wrong because it depletes their earnings. To me, it says, "make every track on your CD worth buying, or let me buy the only one or two good songs on it separately."

Lala.com is a new website that I really, really like. It allows you to listen to any song once before you buy it! It also give you the option of buying a "web only" version of the song for $.10 or less so you can listen to music you don't feel like paying $.99 for. Lala gives you 50 free web songs when you sign up, and even more if you get others to sign up (so let me know if you're interested :) . It's also a bit of a social networking site and allows you to follow other friends' listening patterns. As I mentioned earlier, the music here is DRM-free and the prices are comparable and sometimes better than amazon.com.

Sheet Music


I've had a heckuva time finding piano sheet music online. Musicnotes.com seems to have a really good library, but there should be more sites than that. They are a little over priced than what you could get at a music store, but it does save you the trip of driving and waiting for the order to come in.

Ever since Olga.net disappeared, I've lost the drive to look for new guitar tabs online, any suggestions here?

What technology has fostered your love for music?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How to Backup Your Blog

If you are currently using blogger to write your blog, I would highly recommend backing up all of your posts and comments in case something ever happens. I've never had to restore my blog before, so I'm not sure how easy of a process it would be. At least you could rest assured that you have a backup of the last so many years of your life.

This web site has a utility that works with blogger.com blogs (xxx.blogspot.com)

My blog sometimes ends up being a substitute for my journal. If you'd like a hard copy of your blog I'd check out www.lulu.com and www.blurb.com, they both are pretty good mediums to publish your blog to a book. They even can help you promote your book and put it up for sale, if that's what you want to do with it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Waste of a Vote?

I do not agree with Obama on anything, but after watching the debates McCain made me quite ill, mainly because of the difference in the way they presented themselves. Obama didn't take the offensive, he was cool and composed and was able to communicate clearly. McCain jumped to the offensive right away and was not at all pleasing to watch or listen to. There are other things McCain has done or said that are very inconsistent and I don't know that I want to vote for him, even though I claim to be a republican. So, I have a question I'd like to pose to the few who read my blog...

Would it be considered throwing my vote away if I were to vote for one of the non-major party candidates (assuming they align more with what I think should happen in the next four years)?

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Card Game: Double Speed

Object: Get rid of your cards before the other player

Number of Players: 2

Setup: Deal the entire deck, face down, equally between the two players

Play:
  • Both players hold their decks face down in one hand and at the same time flip over four cards (face up) in front of them (see diagram below).
  • Each player then tries to be the first to flip over a new card on any pairs on the table. For example, below there are two 2's and two 5's, either player can flip a card on top of those cards.
  • The same could go if there are 3 of the same number down.
  • If one of the players were to flip a card on top of the 5 below, and the new card was also a 5, another card could be flipped on top of the second 5.
  • When there are no longer any pairs on the table, you gather the four piles on your side and put them at the bottom of your deck. Each player then lays out four new cards from the tops of their decks and another round begins.
  • Play continues until either player has cards in his hand, once the last card is flipped over, play ends and that player wins.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Security Tip: "Security Software Isn't Sufficient..." - Patch!

I read an interesting article that talks about the not so good strategy of anti-virus companies like Symantec, TrendMicro, and McAfee. These companies don't focus on detecting vulnerabilities in applications and operating systems (the root of the problem) they "are geared toward cranking out signatures for hacker payloads: the worms, Trojan horses and spyware that are identified in the wild, given names and then spotted by adding a new detection "fingerprint" to the software."

Basically these security companies wait for hacker 'A' to write an exploit for Microsoft Office and then they update your virus signatures to fight off that particular hacker and keep you from getting infected when you open an infected word document. But then hacker 'B' comes along and creates a new payload (malicious code) that exploits the same vulnerability, and because it's not yet been fingerprinted by your virus software you get infected!  These companies can't really fix the vulnerabilities, so they shoot for trying to stop known malware by black listing it.

So, just because you have security software does not mean you're safe. Keep your browsers, applications, operating systems, etc., all up to date. That means install the required updates/patches and restart your computer for them to take effect. Most programs have an automatic update feature (sometimes you have to manually click on it), find it and use it.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Temptation

I was preparing a lesson for deacon's quorum the a couple weeks ago on the topic of controlling our thoughts and language. I came across the following quote from a talk given in the April 2007 General Conference:
The adversary will have very little power to tempt you with things that you have never touched.
I've also read C.S. Lewis's similar viewpoint that it isn't giving into the wind that makes a tree strong or surrendering to your enemy in war that leads to victory; the wind must be withstood and your enemy resisted to build your strength against evil.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Card Game: Speed

Number of Players: 2

Object: To get rid of all cards before the other player.

Set-up: 4 piles in a row between you and your opponent. First and last pile have 5 cards each (red), face down. The middle two piles (blue) are only one card each face down. Deal a hand of five cards to each player (green), and then deal the remaining cards into two refill piles for each player (purple).


Play: Each player then flips over a middle (blue) card at the same time and then builds on top of those numbers (either up or down) sequentially. If the highest card ends up on top you can place the lowest card on it, or a card of value one less than the high card. Similar for a low card. When the cards in your hand get below 5, use the refill deck (purple) to replenish your hand. The first person to play all the cards from their hand and refill deck wins.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Windows Vista: Where'd all my Hard Disk Drive Space Go?!


I've had my desktop for about a year now and was getting rather concerned at the lack of hard disk space I had left. I couldn't believe that I actually filled up a 400GB HDD in such a short amount of time. I figured part of it could be the fact that I was storing recorded TV shows on it until I found a more reliable way of getting them to a DVD.

So, I ordered a new hard drive, even bigger than my other one and transferred all the videos and recordings to that drive, expecting to free up 60-70GB. Boy was I wrong! After I had done that only 30-40GB freed up, and the next day I only had 25GB, and then 20GB...what was happening?!

I downloaded some hard drive analysis tools (windirstat, treesize, and despacio) and they all said I was using less than 100GB, I figured them for a bunch of free tools that were obviously faulty (I later realized they were right!).

I did some research and found a lot of people pointing the finger at Windows' System Restore. Most were saying that it typically allots 12% of your hard drive for creating System Restore points...that would mean I was losing about 60GB of space to System Restore! I found a good tutorial that told me how to change the space allotment and was really surprised. First, let me walk you through the steps of how to change this storage amount in Vista:
  1. Click on the Start Menu
  2. Click "All Programs" then "Accessories"
  3. Right-Click on "Command Prompt" and select "Run as Administrator"
  4. Don't freak out because you have to use the command prompt
  5. Type "vssadmin list shadowstorage" into the command prompt
  6. The results should tell you the amount of storage used and the maximum amount allotted

If you're not satisfied with what you see (my allotment was unbounded! It was taking up 280GB!!!), follow these steps:

  1. Repeat steps 1-3 above to get bring up the Command Prompt
  2. Type "vssadmin Resize ShadowStorage /For=[your hard disk]: /On=[your hard disk]: /MaxSize=[how much space you want to allocate]"
  3. For example: "vssadmin Resize ShadowStorage /For=C: /On=C: /MaxSize=2GB"
  4. You should get a message saying Successfully resized the shadow copy storage association, and you should have more free space on your hard drive.

I'm not sure what the recommended amount should be (if you know please comment). I gave myself 10GB, which still saved me about 270GB of space! I was flabbergasted at that amount of space.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

New Movie Blog: Cool Hand Critics


I'm not sure I emailed everyone about the new blog Sherrie and I have started, so I thought I'd tell you a little about it here. I've always loved watching movies. I married Sherrie and got her to watch them with me, though she seemed to be a little skeptical about the quality of time spent watching movies. I could totally see her point, as I have quite a disdain for people who sit and "watch" (flip through) T.V. for hours on end, with little content of value ever being presented.

In order to come up with a compromise I suggested we start analyzing the movies we watch and post our reviews on a blog. This isn't your ordinary run-of-the-mill movie review site, we're trying to do something a little different. There are already a lot of sites that tell you all the bad stuff that a movie contains and try to explain the value of the movie. However, these same sites try to explain how Sex in the City contains any moral value and it makes me cringe.

We decided that we would not only report on the negative content of the movie, but give a genuine review on whether or not we feel the movie has any moral value. We're trying to base our opinion's on Moroni's definition of "good": anything that invites us to do good and persuades us to believe in Christ. We're still perfecting our analysis, but invite everyone to take a look and give us your own view of what you think.

The theme of the site "Cool Hand Critics" comes from one of my favorite movies Cool Hand Luke, in case you were wondering. As soon as we watch it again we'll put up a review of it and let you know if it really is a "world-shaker."

Monday, September 22, 2008

Favorite Music (At the Moment)

Here's a list of 10 musicians I'm currently very fond of (in no particular order):
  1. Juanes: La Vida es un Ratico - I'd like to get more into musica latina, but this is one of the best bands I've heard, with Mana coming in a close second.
  2. Radiohead: OK Computer, In Rainbows - I just discovered this band a few months ago, and absolutely love these albums.
  3. Michael Buble: Call Me Irresponsible
  4. Harry Connick Jr: I prefer his big band music over his solo or duet music.
  5. Counting Crows: All their music is great.
  6. Guster: Everything.
  7. Brian Setzer: both the orchestra and his Rockabilly band.
  8. Jack Johnson: Sleep Through the Static - I can listen to this over and over and never get tired of it.
  9. Yo-Yo Ma: I have his 2 disc special collection and it is amazing.
  10. Ben Folds (after I've done some editing): I currently only own Rockin' the Suburbs, but I've heard most of his other music and put him up there with Elton and Billy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Card Game: Spoons


Number of players: With a regular deck no more than 6-8 players.

Object: Collect 4 cards of a kind and/or don't be left without a spoon at the end of a round.

Set-up: Place a spoon for every player minus one in the middle of the playing area. Deal 4 cards, face-down to each player.

Play: Dealer takes the top card and then decides on one card from his hand to give to the player on his left, face-down. All players do the same when they receive a card from the person on their right. When one of the players gets 4 cards of a the same number they are to take a spoon from the center of the table signaling to everyone else that they should hurry to take one. The person who doesn't get a spoon either earns a letter from the word "S-P-O-O-N-S", or is eliminated from the game. For each player that is removed from play, you must also remove a spoon.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Repentance: What does it mean to forget?

I've always wondered about the usage of the word "forget" in the scriptures with relation to receiveing answers to prayers and repentance. Elder Gerald N. Lund in his book, Hearing the Voice of the Lord, made the point very clear with regards to receiving answers to prayers; and I wondered how the same thing could apply to forgetting one's sins after true repentance.

I don't think it's possible to literally forget that we ever did anything wrong no matter how well we repent. Part of not forgetting our sins probably helps us to remember the pain that we felt upon making certain wrong decisions. I was thinking that I needed a better understanding of the word "forget." Elder Lund talks about the part in Doctrine and Covenants 9 where the Lord tells Oliver Cowdry how to receive an answer to a prayer. He says that if we're not praying for the right thing or the answer is no, "you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong." This doesn't mean that we will literally wonder what in the world our "wrong" choice was, but that our desire to follow that choice will no longer be a strong desire. The same holds true with repentance, by "forgetting" our sins, we're basically forgetting "our desire" to commit the same sin, which is what true repentance is.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Twilight: Predation and Temptation



Aggressive mimicry is a behavior found in nature when a predator disguises/enhances itself as something pleasant or desirable to its prey. For example, one female species of firefly learns the mating signal of another species of firefly and lures the males in with those fraudulent signals and then eats the poor saps.

This is comparable to what Satan uses to make things pleasing to our senses so that we are lured into his predatory traps of temptation. He makes us think we are getting what we ultimately want, and because we don't "cross ourselves in all things" we fall victims to his traps.

In the novel Twilight, Edward is the predator and is naturally made attractive to his prey, humans (particularly Bella). Bella gives into the temptation of choosing to stay close to him. She does this not being completely aware of the danger he posed to her at first, however there was no excuse once she found out what he was to not stay away from him. Whether or not this choice was for her good fortune or not is debatable. I realize that this is a love story and would not be interesting if Meyer didn't place Bella in such a perilous dilemma. I do think the moral repercussions should be more truthful (I haven't read the entire series, so this is my opinion only after reading the first book.)

On the other hand you have Edward who staunchly withstands the temptation to prey on Bella but does not remove himself from the situation. Instead he permits himself to come deathly close to her, knowing what he is and what his relationship to humans is.

Examining these ideas on a moral basis, neither are good examples to live by. I wonder if that theme will carry on throughout the other books. I will admit that I enjoyed the book. I did grow a little weary of Bella's obsession with Edward, but the last quarter of the book made up for it.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Security Tips: Free Anti-virus and Other Security Software


I'm coming to realize that you don't need to purchase Norton or McAffe to have a safe computer. There are plenty of free programs that will do the job as long as those who use your PC are somewhat educated on how to not download malware.

Anti-Virus
I've used Avast! Antivirus for quite a while with absolutely no problems. It's definitely not as slick looking as the software you pay for, but I haven't got any malware (that I'm aware of). I've recently switched to Avira Antivir due to it's recent appraisal on cnet.com, and have been pleased with it as well.

Some of the basic tips to take into consideration to avoid malware is to not open up email from people you don't know, just delete it! If it does look like it's from someone you know be very careful when downloading attachments or clicking on links within the message. Be careful what websites you browse and stay away from peer to peer file-sharing applications (limewire, kazaa, bittorrent), unless you know what you're doing. Anything that you can circuitously get for free, when under normal circumstances you pay for it, is a potential risk.

Firewall
I generally use Window's firewall as well as make sure the firewall on my internet gateway is also properly configured. I've tried ZoneAlarm, and though it bugs the heck out of you for every little thing wanting to access the internet, at least nothing will access the internet without you giving it express permission. That's basically what a firewall does, it makes sure only certain types of applications can access your computer from the internet.

Spyware Remover
Trend Micro's HiJackThis! is a great program to analyze every little thing that is running on your computer. You can then send the log that it creates to a website like this for someone to analyze it and tell you which programs shouldn't be there. Spybot Search and Destroy is also supposed to be a good automated way of finding and getting rid of spyware.

Parental Control
I haven't had much use for parental control on my computer, but some people choose to use them just to keep junk from popping up. Cnet and other websites recommend K9 Web Protection.

Encryption
This another area I haven't looked into very much, but haven't had much need to yet. If you travel internationally a lot and ever have to give your laptop up for inspection, you better have all your personal files encrypted, or wipe your drive before you land. Check out TrueCrypt for this.

Backups
We're using Carbonite right now. Mozy was nice, but Carbonite puts marks on all your folders so that you always know which folders have been backed-up and which ones haven't been yet. They both have free trials, but it's worth it to pay the $50/year for unlimited space. We got a $10 discount off of retailmenot.com and that made it that much more worth it. Also check out a previous post I wrote if you want to learn a little bit more on backups.

Any security tools you've found useful?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Accepting Gifts


A little over a week ago a discussion at work came up on how much you should help your children out financially. Almost everyone was of the opinion that if you help them out too much, they will not appreciate it and "waste [their] substance." My wife and I have also had this discussion, wondering how to start up a savings plan for our kids, and to what use it will be put, what should we do about allowance, how much should we encourage them to save, etc. There are many topics under helping out children financially, and I'd like to focus on helping them out later in life (school, starting a new family, new home, etc.)

I agree that you should never get something for nothing. If one is blessed enough to receive financial help of any sort and then either uses it without showing appreciation or wastes it on something other than its intended purpose, he/she is in essence receiving something and doing nothing. It could be argued that there were no explicit instructions or contractual agreement with the receipt of the money, but hopefully we all prescribe to a higher level of ethics and moral behavior.

Scenario

A parent decides to help his/her child through school and provides the child with the needed money. As I see it there are a couple ways with which the child might accept the endowment:
  1. The child accepts the money and does little or nothing to express his/her gratitude and may or may not put it to wise use.
  2. The child refuses the money claiming he can make it on his own or that his parents have already done enough for him.
  3. The child accepts it and works hard, showing gratitude, knowing and not expecting to be able to fully repay the giver of the gift.
If the child accepts the money, it is expected that he will work hard, but if he doesn't he is actively using his agency to do with it as he wills, which may determine the presence or absence of future similar gifts. If the gift is refused, the child could be considered as ungrateful, foolish, or even prideful.

Either way the child is being very ungrateful and the parent can choose to take the money back, or urge the child to rethink their decision.

What is the best way to react or use these types of gifts? I've thought about this a bit and have come to the conclusion that no person in their right mind should refuse gifts given with such love and good intent as parents usually give. I understand not all parents are in such a position and would love to, and what they don't have materially to give they make up with the love that they show.

I found this easy to accept when I consider all that our Heavenly Father offers to gives us, (though not unconditionally). We never turn to Him and tell Him to stop blessing us, or that we don't need a particular blessing. Our parents have a very similar relationship to us here on earth. I think this is a good opportunity to practice our gratitude and learn how to properly thank them, never expecting or intending to pay them back, but just to show love in return. If you feel obligated to do something in return as payment, I think you might be missing the whole point of the gift; but if you don't do anything to show your gratitude, something in your own life needs to be evaluated.

I find myself saying "thank you" a lot, but not doing anything "extra" in return for what I'm blessed with. The Lord has asked us to love others which is the same as showing love to Him.

What are some ways that we can show love and gratitude to our parents when we are no longer living in the same house?

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Card Game: Egyptian Rat Fink

Number of Players: 2 or more

Object: Win everyone else's cards

Deal: Deal cards one at a time to each player face down in a pile.

Play:

  1. Player to left of dealer goes first.
  2. Hold deck face down and flip top card into middle of table.
  3. Other players follow clockwise.
  4. If a high card (11, 12, 13, or 14; Jack, Queen, King, or Ace) is played the next player has 1, 2, 3, or 4 tries (respectively) to flip over an 11-14 or Jack-Ace; if they fail the person who initially played the high card adds the cards in the middle to the bottom of their stack (face down), and leads the next round.
  5. Play continues until one player has collected all the cards.
Variation: You can add a rule that any time a certain number (e.g., 2) is flipped into the middle of the table, the first person to slap the pile wins the cards and starts the next round. If you want to play forever you can also allow people who are out to "slap in" at these times.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight and Ultra-Portable PC's

The above have nothing in common, I just felt like I occasionally need something other than religion and politics in my blog.


I've probably watched all of The Dark Knight movie trailers several times over. I read a good part of the articles and reviews on the movie and cannot wait to get to the theater to see it. I don't know what it is about Batman that fascinates me, I've never even read a single Batman comic book. It probably has something to do with the fact that Batman is very mortal. He has no supernatural powers, unless you consider wealth such a power, and he takes justice into his own hands. Whether or not this is "right" is debatable, but what else do you do when no one else seems to care about making a change for the good?

There has been quite a bit of hype about the joker and how Mr. Ledger is deserving of an Oscar for his role, but I could honestly care less about the Oscars. It's just a bunch of people with weird perceptions on what makes a good movie or actor. They never consult "the people," at least I never got a ballot. That's why I'd like to take movie critiquing into my own hands.


The other thing that has grabbed my attention is the new line of ultra-portable laptops that various tech companies (Asus, Acer, HP, etc.) have come out with. I'm trying to rationalize the need for one, but I'm not quite convinced that it's the wisest purchase right now. The specs keep getting better with each new model of the EeePC. Acer came out with a cheaper option with a better processor. HP's is more of a standard laptop in a smaller case (regular hard drive) and seems to be pointed more towards business travelling needs, and is pricier.

I think I'll wait another month or two to see what type of price drops will be happening with the back to school crowd and see if other laptop makers will be jumping in on this end of the portable PC market. Lenovo, Vaio, and Mac are kind of out of the question as they decided to charge close to $2000 for their versions.

Most of these come with a webcam, linux, a decently sized hard drive that is shock proof (can be dropped from several feet with no damage to the insides), nice size screen for the overall size, long battery life (developments are under way to make this even better), etc... enough to make any techie drool.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Relevance of Church Leader's Counsel on Face Cards


Both my wife and I grew up in homes where we were not permitted to play with face cards. We were told that the prophet had counseled us to stay away from them. I was curious as to who and when it was said and found the following quotes from a search of "playing cards" at lds.org:
  • Elder Oaks, in 1972, stated: "One type of gambling that has been vigorously criticized by our leaders is card playing. Cards may, of course, be played without playing for money, but the relationship between card playing and gambling is so close and the practice of card playing itself partakes of so many of the disadvantages of gambling that card playing has come under condemnation regardless of whether or not gambling is involved."
  • Elder Widtsoe's comments in 1943 could clarify this, if Elder Oak's opinion doesn't override it: “It must be added that relaxation from the regular duties of the day is desirable and necessary for human well-being. Wholesome games of recreation are advocated by all right-minded people. Moreover, the … objections [to card playing] are not directed against the many and various card games on the market not employing the usual ‘playing cards.’ Most of these furnish innocent and wholesome recreation, and many are really instructive. It is true that they may be played to excess, but in fact it seldom happens. This is true even when such cards are used in games imitating those with ‘playing cards.’ It is true that such cards may be used for gambling purposes, but in fact it is almost never done. The pall of evil seems to rest upon the ‘playing cards’ handed down to us from antiquity” (Evidences and Reconciliations, Murray & Gee, 1943, pp. 218–19).
  • Pres. Spencer W. Kimball, in Nov. 1974, said: "We hope faithful Latter-day Saints will not use the playing cards which are used for gambling, either with or without the gambling."
What I get from these quotes is that the decks of cards used for playing poker (your regular Bicycle deck of 52 cards) shouldn't be used at all. From Elder Widtsoe's quote, card games in general are not bad (I'm assuming this includes games like Phase 10, Rook, Mille Bornes, Uno, etc.). Games that use imitation face cards (I'm assuming this could be games like Sequence...though I've never played it or Canasta that is sold as cards specifically made for the game) are OK.

What do you all think of this? President Hinckley talked about gambling about 3 years ago in a Priesthood session of conference but didn't mention whether or not face cards could/shouldn't be used.

These other quotes are over 30 years old. Are they still valid today? Or is this a topic that shouldn't even be brought up. Please respond in the comments and poll.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Card Game: Club 7

A card game I learned on a 50 mile hike in New Mexico. These rules apply to playing with Rook cards as well.

Number of players: 4

Object: Be the first to get rid of all your cards.

Deal: Deal out all of the cards equally. Person with the black 7 plays first and must put that card down on the table. Play then continues clock-wise.

Play: Cards will be placed on the table in four rows, each row its own suit (black, red, green, yellow). In order to play, cards must be played in this order:
  1. After the black 7 is played, all the other 7's must be played next
  2. 6's must be played next (in no particular color order)
  3. 8's may be played after all of the 6's are down
  4. Once the 6, 7, and 8 of each color are down for any suit, cards may be placed either up or down in no particular order for that suit.
If on your turn you are unable to follow these steps, the person on your left gives you a card of their choosing from their hand. The first player to get rid of his/her hands wins.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Card Game: Kent

This is a card game I learned to play with Rook cards, though any cards with multiple sets of 4 numbers may be used.

Number of Players:
4, 6, 8 (only these even numbers)

Objective: Collect 4 cards of the same number each round, signal to your partner your achievement, and be the team with the most points.

Preparation: 4 cards are dealt face-down to each player. Pair off into teams of two players. Each team secretively decides on a subtle sign (flaring nostrils, biting cheeks, holding cards a particular way, etc.) that will be used during the game, with the intent to get their partner's attention but not the attention of the other players.

The Play: The dealer takes four cards from off the top of the remaining deck and puts them face-up in the middle of the table. Players are free to take the cards off the table and exchange them with cards in their hands (in no particular order), so long as each player keeps 4 cards in their hand when they are done. When no players want the cards in the middle, the dealer replaces the cards on the table with 4 new cards from the top of the remaining deck.

Scoring: The goal is to get 4 cards of the same number in your hand and then as subtly as possible make your signal to get your partner to say "Kent." That team then gets a point if no one catches them before "Kent" is said.

If an opposing team catches you making the sign they may say "obvious" and then must identify the sign that was being made. If the accuser is successful at identifying the sign, they get a point, otherwise they lose a point. The team with the discovered sign must regroup and come up with a new sign.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Joseph Smith's First Vision

A friend of ours was giving a talk on the restoration of the Church of Jesus Christ and made an interesting connection to the importance of Joseph Smith's First Vision. He said that of the people he has talked to that have served foreign missions (I would assume the same goes for native speaking missions), no matter how long ago, they can still retell the Joseph Smith story verbatim in the language of their mission. I thought about that, and to my surprise (even with my Spanish growing rustier by the year) could do it without a pause. I'll do it again here without looking at anything:
Vi una columna de luz mas brillante que el sol directamente arriba de mi cabeza; y esta luz [gradualmente] descendio hasta descansar sobre mi... Al reposar sobre mi la luz, vi en el aire arriba de mi a dos Personajes, cuyo fulgor y gloria no admiten descripcion. Uno de ellos me hablo llamandome por mi nombre y dijo, senalando al otro, "Este es mi hijo amado: Escuchalo!"
I missed "gradualmente" but I think my point is still pretty clear. Anybody else out there find this true?

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Obama: Strike 1!


On the Economy
According to Obama's speech on the economy, he blames credit card companies and partially John McCain for American consumer debt. It seems that the democrats try putting the blame of national crises everywhere but where it belongs. Another example is that the state of our economy is all Pres. Bush's fault, go take a lesson in economics people! It sounds a little too much like the priests of King Noah.

Could it also be that interest rates aren't high because credit card companies are bad (for the most part) but also because of the number of people who file bankruptcy and never pay back their huge credit?

On the Environment
Obama wants to create a tax on the windfall profits of oil companies? Won't that just increase the cost of R&D to find other oil, causing a rise in the cost of oil in the long run? Oil companies might make $.10 on the dollar, the rest is already going to the government. Since when is a windfall profit bad, isn't that the point of capitalism, aren't we leaning a little closer to socialism with his ideas?

On the Supreme Court Vacancies
I'm glad someone pointed out the possibility that we would be forfeiting 6 seats in the Supreme Court (though I haven't found any news articles on it). A fully democratic run gov't would be bad (as is a fully run republican gov't) we need both views present and balanced in order to best represent the people. (If you can prove otherwise be my guest, but I still don't believe democrats are 100% evil or that republicans are 100% holy). Though in the case of the Courts, we need judges who espouse the Christian views of the majority of the US, who will uphold the sanctity of marriage along with other Christian ideals, it is quite obvious that republicans win this debate.

I've still got Obama's biography to watch. If anyone see's anything Obama would do better than McCain, please comment!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

A Bipartisan Rant: Obama for President

Why do political parties exist? They seem absolutely worthless. I'd like to do some research on why they came about (possibly stemming from those for upholding the Constitution and others wanting to keep the Articles of Confederation, but that will be another post.) You have Republicans thinking that democrats are evil and vice versa, and with the misunderstandings /lies spread about the opposite party, can you blame them?

I've been raised in a very conservative environment, and from what I understand the LDS (Mormon) faith is quite conservative as well. By conservative I mean - pro-life, upholding traditional marriage (between man and woman), complete abstinence, etc. mainly a push for more conservative morals than anything, as the Church stays as far away from politics as possible. I feel that the republican mindset is that democrats are evil because they want to obliterate our agency by increasing government involvement in our lives by increasing taxes and government programs that steal from the rich to give to the poor and middle classes. I don't think that democrats can possibly be so Marxist/Satanic.

What's wrong with the government extending a little help to those who have had no chance to make something of their life? Sure the welfare program needs reforming, but both republicans and democrats are aware of that and nobody elected seems to do anything about it.

I think we can all agree that the reasons for going to war in Iraq were not the best, but things have gotten better (we've at least done some good, though at the expense of the morale of the American people and derision of the globe), whether the President is Obama or McCain the war will probably end soon under either person, making this a moot point.

What about the economy? It makes absolutely no sense to blame the state of the national economy on one person. Just take Economics 101 and you will see that it's much more complicated than that. We just don't know enough about what's going on so we tend to blame the guy at the top. I'm sure some of the decisions that have been made in our government have contributed to our current economic state, but our government is made up of republicans and democrats, and with what little I know, the democrats make up a majority of the House and we're split in the Senate.

The list goes on and on. Why pit your party against the other, why not look at both and determine which things are good and which are bad, measure them against the candidate that best fits that mold and not be afraid to support someone your party is against. I admit that I don't know either candidate's position on a lot of issues, but because of my background I tend to stick with the republicans and then I end up thinking anything the democrats do has to be wrong. With that in mind I think I'm going to say I'm voting for Obama, unless I can find some evidence before the next election that sells me on why I should vote for McCain. It seems as though I'll have to sift through the garbage the republicans and democrats dig up about each other's candidates to find out about the issues that really matter.

If anybody knows of some legitimate source of info on the candidates and their issues I'd welcome your comments. I've come to like US News and World Report and Article 6 Blog. I do listen to talk radio once in a while to hear what the "hot topics" are (do democrats have anything similar?)

Friday, May 30, 2008

Chiasmus in the Book of Mormon

Another evidence that the Book of Mormon is more than the written imaginations of an unschooled young man of 23 can be found in Alma 36. Chiasmus had been discovered in the Bible at the time, though was more than likely known amongst scholars, it is not very likely that Joseph Smith knew about it. (For that reason we don't use physical evidence to purport the Book's divinity, we invite readers to ask of God if the Book of Mormon is not true. God will only answer those asking with real intent to respond appropriately to His answer: if it is true, to be baptized into His restored church, if it is not to continue on your way and respect our belief that we are following God's will.)

Back to Alma 36. This chapter uses chiasmus and at the very center is the Atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Compare the first verse with last verse, second with second to last, and so forth. Consider the following as a guide:

  • v.1, 30 : Keep God's commandments and you will prosper.
  • v.2, 28-29 : Remember the things God has done for us and our ancestors.
  • v.3, 27 : Trust in God and you'll be lifted up at the last day.
  • v.4-5, 26 : You must be born of God.
  • v.6, 24-25 contrast of actions before and after rebirth
  • v.7, 23 : loss and regain of strength
  • v.8, 22 : angels are seen
  • v.9-12, 20-21 : racked with eternal torment, experiences "exquisite and sweet joy"
  • v.13, 19 : remembrance of pains of sin
  • v.14-16, 18 : without the atonement there is no hope; with the atonement mercy is allowed
  • v. 17 : Christ atoned for the sins of the world.

Alma provides a great example of how we can accept the atonement in our own lives, be born again, and receive the "exquisite and sweet joy" that comes with becoming a true follower of Christ.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Understanding Why We Have Holidays

This past Sunday in church we had some excellent talks on both spiritual and physical sacrifices and how they tied into the importance of Memorial Day weekend. It was emphasized that too often we get caught up in the fact that we have a three-day weekend coming up, or the pools are opening, or it's time to have a big barbecue, without giving a second thought to the reason why we have that day off. So many men and women have died to preserve the freedom we enjoy today. One day out of the year has been set apart to remember those who have passed on.

As a family we decided that we would like to better show our gratitude to those who we remember throughout the year and who have given us time off of work and school. We'll start having activities related to those holidays (in addition to the swimming and barbecuing) and hopefully gain a greater respect for our country and its leaders.

Something we learned yesterday was the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Decoration Day was established initially to honor those who died during the Civil War. In 1967 the day officially became Memorial Day and established as the last Monday in the month of May. Flags are lowered to half-mast from dawn until noon. The President or Vice President lays a wreath on the tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetary.

Veterans Day (initially Armistice Day) is held on the 11th day of the 11th month and is held to honor those still living who have fought to maintain freedom.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

A Deeper Understanding of Christ's Atonement


I took the advice I got from the comments on a previous post and read Bro. Skousen's "Personal Search for the Meaning of the Atonement." It was amazing. Part of what helped me get a lot out of it came from reading Sherrie's post on understanding the reason for God's laws, and how we shouldn't be focusing on the law itself but on what it's helping us achieve; also, reading Appendix B in Skousen's book The First 2000 Years helped.

After reading the article I came to the realization that I don't understand what it means to love Christ. Sure I read my scriptures, pray, have Family Home Evening weekly, etc.; but I tend to forget why I'm doing it all. There is absolutely nothing we can do that will get us into the Celestial Kingdom, only what Christ has accomplished will allow us to enjoy that eternal reward. However, the effects of his sacrifice are somewhat conditional on our demonstration of our love for Him through obedience to His commandments.

Understanding our complete dependence on Christ makes it easier to accept the principles in the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. Some laborer's worked all day and still others only worked one hour, yet they all worked and all received an equal reward. We are not in competition one with another to reach exaltation, and we can't reach exaltation without our families or helping those around us.

Doctrine and Covenants 45:3-5 illustrates Christ's role in our eternal salvation. Amulek helps us further understand that every last one of us is in need of the mercy of the Lord (Alma 34:14-16) and will be eternally indebted to Him.

I can't explain everything that has passed through my mind, but I can add that there is so much for us to learn. I'm amazed at how many times I feel like I know something only to find out that there is something much more enlightening on that subject that I had never considered. The gospel of Jesus Christ is on the earth in its fullness. God speaks to His prophet, Thomas S. Monson today. The Book of Mormon was written and preserved for thousands of years for our learning and studying of the gospel of happiness.

Monday, May 12, 2008

"Christ Against the Multicultralists"


I ran across an article on a religious themed blog I often read with the above title. I was mainly curious because I wanted to know what was meant by "multiculturalist." My interpretation from the article is that it is one who believes that truth is relative to culture. What one truth is in one society may not be the same to another.
Multiculturalism might seem like a harmless game of cultural tourism mixed with a little detective work, with the crime (sexism and racism) always being the same, but it is actually much more serious than that. Liberal professors assume that you, the student, come to their classes believing in universal truths, and they think that it is their job to get you to leave such baggage behind. Since professors these days do not believe in human nature, they think that the most important thing they can do is to teach you that all values are relative. And they do this by trying to convince you that you do not understand other cultures because you are trapped in your own.
The author argues that such a belief is anti-Christian. Christ, who lived and died about 2000 years ago is in no way apart of the same society or culture that any of us are a part of today, and therefore his teachings would not be relevant to us. Here's is the more credible defense of such a position:
A central part of education is learning how to argue by testing your own ideas about human nature against the ideas found in great books and the ideas espoused by your teachers and fellow students. Christians believe, for example, that because we are created in the image of God, every single person is of infinite worth, but Christians also believe that humans are fallen creatures, in need of grace and forgiveness. Christians are thus able to appreciate both the majesty and the misery of human actions. That is a powerful framework for questioning what you read and hear. What Christians do not believe is that every culture has its own truths and that the only way to learn about another culture is to refrain from seeking the universal truth.

To return to the central truth of Christianity, Christians believe that God experienced the totality of the human condition by becoming incarnate in Jesus Christ. That is, God did not need to become incarnate in each one of us in order to understand every one of us. Each one of us can experience a personal relationship with Jesus because Jesus was completely one of us. If cultural relativism is true, then Christianity is doomed, because God became incarnate in a very specific person at a particular time and place. From the perspective of multiculturalism, God could not have understood what it means to be human by becoming a Jewish carpenter from Nazareth. It follows that if God did understand man by becoming a man, then multiculturalism is a lie.

Applying this truth to the world of higher education, we can say that every human life is, in principle, sufficient for the discovery of every truth. You don’t need new experiences to become educated; you just need deeper ways of understanding your own experience.

Thankfully the institution I attended was a private one espoused by the beliefs that are central to my religion. I feel like I did, and will continue to have a desire to better understand my current situation in life, my standing before God and the stewardships with which He will continue to bless me.

In the end the author's main counsel is for those entering "higher" education for the first time, as well as for those who perhaps have been misled to believe it is something else all together:
Christianity inspired and informed the highest achievements of Western culture in order to challenge people to think about the eternal things, like heaven and hell, God, grace, forgiveness, and death. A college education should immerse you in the highest achievements of Western culture in order to give you the tools to enrich your experiences and refine you moral judgments. Education in this sense is about coming to know yourself, not because you construct your own reality, but because your nature is the same as everyone else’s.

Original article by Stephen H. Webb, May 6, 2008.

Address written for entering students of Wabash College, Class of 2012.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Real Estate Investment Tips

I attended a seminar the LDS church held for the community on Investment tips. It was very educating and I thought I'd share some of the things I picked up. I'm in no way versed in investment strategies or real estate, so feel free to add your opinion/clarification in the comments.

Sub-prime mortgage problem
In 2002 interest rates reached rock bottom at 4.5%, everyone who could refinanced their house. Lenders didn't like the low interest rates and started offering incentives to buy bigger homes at the new rate, when interest rates increased owners couldn't afford the payments anymore and were foreclosed on (probably due to 0% down loans).

What is a foreclosure?
Happens when you can't afford to make payments on your house, and you can't sell it. For example, let's say your mortgage was 100K and you put nothing down. To sell the house, including closing costs (~$10K), you would have to pay 110K. So you'd have to bring an extra $10K to the table. So your credit gets whacked and you get foreclosed on.

It's bad to sell your home in an area where there are a lot of foreclosures. The reason bing that financial institutions can take a hit on them (sell them for a low price) because they have plenty of opportunities to make up for the loss by selling other properties for more, while you only have one shot.

When does it make sense to Flip?
Flipping only makes sense if you can by a house at an under-market value and sell it at at least market-value (no one really ever pays more), not possible in South-East Texas right now.

Best option: Hold and Buy
If you do want to invest in real estate the best option (here in the South) is to buy real estate and then put it on the market while leasing it out. All those who were foreclosed on are now looking for places to rent, generally in the $1200-$2000/mo. range.

Beware of Mortgage Scams
The gist of mortgage scams is that bad credit people look for good credit people to get loans for them, and then wreck the good people's credit. The bad people bribe appraisers to give high appraisal values to validate a loan well above the true value of the home, the good people get the loan, receive a little extra cash, and then the bad people leave with the excess money, leaving the good people with an outstanding loan, thusly ruining their credit.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Happy Earth Day!

Doctrine and Covenants 104: 13-18

13 For it is expedient that I, the Lord, should make every man accountable, as a steward over earthly blessings, which I have made and prepared for my creatures.

14 I, the Lord, stretched out the heavens, and built the earth, my very handiwork; and all things therein are mine.

15 And it is my purpose to provide for my saints, for all things are mine.

16 But it must needs be done in mine own way; and behold this is the way that I, the Lord, have decreed to provide for my saints, that the poor shall be exalted, in that the rich are made low.

17 For the earth is full, and there is enough and to spare; yea, I prepared all things, and have given unto the children of men to be agents unto themselves.

18 Therefore, if any man shall take of the abundance which I have made, and impart not his portion, according to the law of my gospel, unto the poor and the needy, he shall, with the wicked, lift up his eyes in hell, being in torment.

Digital Journal Writing

I've been wanting to go through my mission journals for sometime, but never seemed to make the time to sit down and read them. One thing that motivated me to finally do it is to transcribe them. I bring the journal to work and take 15 minutes of my lunch break to type up a couple of entries and store them online (using Google Docs or Zoho). Hopefully this will serve as a good backup in case anything happens to them.

I started with the MTC and it was neat to see my growth the two months I was there. I was beginning to get annoyed at myself at how "amazing" everything was and the fact that I didn't explain anything as to why it was amazing. Then, the last week or so there, I actually started expounding on the spiritual experiences I was having. If you're keeping a journal, make sure to not just list the things you've done but try to communicate your actual feelings and things you've learned. Those items are what will help the reader the most.

I've also started keeping my current journal online because I can add to it where ever I am (provided there's a computer nearby). I know it doesn't capture my actual handwriting and that can take away from the personal depth of the entries, but I can include photos a lot easier, and it will allow me to share it with my family a lot easier too, and not have to worry about losing the original. My blog is also a good journal source, though I don't tend to share intimate personal experiences here.

Have you all had any recent journal writing experiences? At what point would you begin sharing your journal with your family?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

How much caffeine does a Hershey Kiss have?


I was curious about the caffeine content of a few foods and drinks and here's what I found:
  • A Starbuck's 12 oz. cup of coffee has 260 mg
  • A 16 oz. Rockstar or Monster has 160 mg
  • A 8.3 oz. Red Bull has 80 mg
  • A 12 oz. Mountain Dew has 55 mg
  • A 12 oz. Dr. Pepper has 41 mg
  • A 12 oz. Coca-Cola Classic has 34.5 mg
  • A 12 oz. Snapple Tea has 31.5 mg
  • 1 square of baking chocolate (unsweetened) has 23.2 mg
  • A 12 oz. Barq's Root Beer has 22.5 mg
  • 1 bar of Hershey's Special Dark 18 mg
  • 1 bar of Hershey's Chocolate with Almonds has 8 mg
  • A KitKat has 6 mg
  • An 8 oz. cup of brewed decaffeinated coffee has 5.6 mg
  • An 8 oz. cup of hot chocolate or chocolate milk has 5 mg
  • An 8 oz. cup of instant decaf coffee has 2.5 mg
  • 1 Hershey's Kiss has 1 mg
You're welcome for that new wrinkle in your brain.

Monday, March 31, 2008

A Latter-day Saint Perspective on the Constitution

For family night I was inspired to review the importance of the Constitution of the United States. I thought I'd put it into a slide show so I could share what I learned with others. I compiled the majority of it from my American Heritage reading, Just and Holy Principles, specifically from a discourse by President Ezra Taft Benson on the 200th anniversary of the Constitution.

We've set some goals to read through it and make an outline that will be easy to commit to memory, as well as to make sure we help our children to learn and know it. The Constitution is an inspired document given to us by the hand of God, it is our responsibility to make sure righteous men and women are elected to represent us and defend it. We, too, must be able to defend it and understand how it blesses our lives.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Make Your Own Quality Ringtones


A couple of weeks ago I was thinking of the possibility of getting actual song bits onto my phone without cranking the stereo and using the horrible recording device on my phone. I did a bit of research and found that it wasn't possible for the software I had.

Then yesterday I ran across a site called 3guppies. I decided I'd try it out even though they said they can only do polyphonic ringtones with my phone. I uploaded a song, chose the clip I wanted for my ringer and sent it to my phone. Once I saved the sound file I could assign it as a ringtone. Pretty straightforward. Even if it is only polyphonic, I don't know that I would be able to tell the difference between that and a truetone, unless it really did download it as a truetone ringtone. The fact of the matter is it sounds pretty good.

The site can also be used to blog from your phone to your MySpace account...social networking sites, that's a topic for another post, what a waste of time...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Sealing Power of the Atonement

We decided to study the Atonement this week for family night. I was in charge and assigned us to read the article by Elder Holland in the April Ensign on the Atonement. In addition to that I read "Why the Atonement was necessary?" from The First 2000 Years by Brother Skousen.

When we were sealed in the temple (and in other occasions) I've heard that as long as parents keep the covenants that they make to God in the temple, their children will be with them in the Celestial Kingdom no matter how far they may seem to stray in this life. I accepted that explanation purely on faith because I wasn't sure how that could be possible. I thought that only Christ's holiness could guarantee our salvation. As I thought more about this the following thoughts began to formulate in my brain.

It is only through Christ that we can obtain Celestial glory. Christ compares himself to the Bridegroom and the Church (disciples) as his bride. He came to earth among his brethren to establish His church and teach His followers what they must do in order to return to live with Him. He suffered all things even unto death to prove to His Father how much He loves us and desires us to return to his presence. In light of our fallen state, the Father would not be able to admit us into His kingdom were it not that we had been purchased through the atoning blood of His Son.

In a similar way we as parents, by proving to God how much we love our children, by keeping the sacred covenants we have made to Him in His holy temples, by not giving up on our children, and by pressing forward with a steadfastness in Christ, we can be assured that our example will be seen by our children and they will have the desire to remain or return to Christ's fold through the sealing power of His holy Priesthood.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Security on a Budget

I found an article on personal security that has a good list of some things we can do to better secure our homes/possessions. I have thought about self installed security systems or ample motion lights and security cameras, but this list is a good start before you start dolling out the hundred dollar bills. Here are a few of the ones I found helpful:
  • Trim overgrown shrubs away from the window (eliminate hiding places for crooks)
  • Invest in window pins
  • Lock door that leads from house to garage
  • Separate home address from garage door opener (not sure how this works if you keep your insurance/registration in car)
  • Unmonitored alarm system (x10.com has a pretty nice one)
  • The key fob trick
Any other ideas you'd recommend?

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Martian Child" and Charity

"But right now, you and me, here put together entirely from atoms, sitting on this round rock with a core of liquid iron held down by this force, that so troubles you, called gravity. All the while spinning around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour and whizzing through the milky way at 600,000 miles an hour in a universe that very well may be chasing its own tail at the speed of light. And amidst all this frantic activity fully cognizant of our own imminent demise, which is a very pretty way of saying, "we all know we're gonna die," we reach out to one another. Sometimes for the sake of vanity, sometimes for reasons you're not old enough to understand yet, but a lot of the time we just reach out and expect nothing in return."
We watched Martian Child a few nights ago and really enjoyed it. It's a great family movie. One of the quotes I really liked is what you just read. I've thought a lot about that myself when I consider those who have no clue why we are here on this earth. What do they think motivates them to love and serve one another? We are taught that "the Spirit of Christ is given to every[one]," but they have no idea that that is what it is that motivates them to perform Christ like attributes.

I had my optometrist ask me the other day, "what is it that you teach in your church that motivates your youth to stick with your religion?" I tried to explain that it's because they are taught to ask God and He tells them that it is true. I tried a number of different ways to tell her we believe this is the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, but it just didn't make sense to her. Nevertheless, I was grateful for her not being afraid to ask and my ability to explain it to her.

The missionaries came by and shared our ward's mission plan with us. Something that they're emphasizing is not teaching the gospel directly to your friends and neighbors, but helping us first reach out and simply befriend them. Not befriending them for the sole purpose of getting them to listen to the missionaries, but genuinely "reaching out and expecting nothing in return."

What are somethings you have done to reach out to your friends and neighbors that aren't members of the church?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Best Free DVD Collection Manager...So Far

I've been trying to find a good DVD collection manager to better see what I have, track who I've lent DVD's to, what DVD's I've already seen, etc. I've even started exploring how to create my own application using Amazon web services to get the DVD info, but I haven't had too much time to do much with it.

I did find an application that does most of what I'm looking for. DVDSpot is an online DVD organizer. If you have all your movies in a text file you can upload that text file and have DVDSpot import all the information for those movies from IMDB. Not every movie is on there, especially if you are a collector of older movies, but the program also lets you input information into individual movies.

Another cool feature is that you can send out movie night invitations to a bunch of friends. An email is sent out with the date, time, place, and movie for the night. You can even have them RSVP if they are dvdSpot members.

The only complaint I have is it's export functionality (or lack thereof). It would be great if you could export all the information for each movie into a database, but the only thing you can export is the UPC, Title, personal rating, and watched date. If any one knows of an easy way to get this data from here or any other source (imdb, amazon, etc.), I'd be mighty obliged.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

AJAX Modal Popup Gridview Data Transfer

In a previous post I simply mentioned an article that helped me solve a problem I was having with the grid view control in an AJAX modal popup. The solution mentioned placing some javascript in your aspx file. I couldn't get that to quite work, so this is what I did:
  1. I created some hidden text fields in the modal popup.
  2. When a row in the grid view was selected by a user certain fields in the selected row were transferred to the hidden text fields.
    • Protected Sub GridView1_SelectedIndexChanging(ByVal sender As Object, ByVal e As GridViewSelectEventArgs)

      Dim index As Integer = GridView1.SelectedIndex
      Dim row As GridViewRow = GridView1.Rows(e.NewSelectedIndex)

      hTicket.Text = row.Cells(1).Text ...(etc.)
  3. When the OK button was clicked I was able to add some code into that sub procedure that transferred the data in the hidden fields to the controls in my form.
    • Me.txtTicketNbr.Text = hTicket.Text
This does seem like there should be an easier solution, but I could not get the data to be transferred from the grid view directly to the form when a certain row was selected. No one in the asp.net forums seemed to know or care. So if anyone comes across a solution after reading this, please be so kind as to share the knowledge.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Portable Applications for your new multi-gig flash drive


With flash drives getting bigger and bigger and cheaper and cheaper, I was at a loss for what to do with so much space. I bought a bigger flash drive just because I could. As I was looking around, there's a ton of stuff you can put on there that will help you fill up that space. Some of the options I've discovered include:
  • You can put an entire operating system on it, and boot off of it. (Puppy Linux )
  • You can install all the apps you normally use so you don't have to fret about not having the same firefox configurations from computer to computer. Some portable apps I've installed:
    • Firefox: Web browser
    • Clam AntiVirus
    • Notepad++: advanced text editing software
    • WinSCP: ftp client
    • 7Zip: file compressor/ uncompressor (works with tar balls)
    • OpenOffice Suite (files compatible with most MS Office files, includes word processor, spreadsheet, presentation, etc.)
    • GIMP: Free alternative to Photoshop
    • Gaim: multiple IM app
    • Thunderbird: email client
    • etc.
  • You can use it to store a password vault, so you don't have to worry about whether this web browser has that really long, difficult-to-remember password stored in it's cache
  • Use Ceedo to portabilize any application (if you're willing to pay for it), or there's a free alternative called MojoPac.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Our Solution to the Phone Problem


For background on this issue, check out this post. We canceled our phone line with AT&T...mostly. According to CNET.com, AT&T has been forced by the FCC to offer "unbundled naked DSL Internet service to customers around the country." This means you can just order DSL from AT&T for $25/mo and not have to worry about paying for a land line. We considered doing away with a land line completely, but we're not on our own cell-phone plans yet, and thus don't have complete freedom with the use of our minutes.

We found that Vonage has a very appealing service plan ($15/mo.) allowing for 500 minutes of outbound (including long distance) calls and unlimited inbound calls (unlimited outbound calls are only $10 more per month). They have a nice online web interface that allows you to see your call log, check your voice mail, and add new features and tweak settings (voice mail, have your number ring your cell phone too, set a number to route calls to in case your internet service is down, etc.). One thing that is also a plus is that you can set up any voice mail messages you received to be sent to your email address! As far as I can tell, the sound quality seems even better than what we had with AT&T. You do have to make sure they have 911 calling in your area, apparently some areas don't, but they have some possible workarounds for those who don't.

The one drawback to this service is that your phone is completely dependent on your internet connection being up. We haven't had hardly any problems that couldn't be solved by simply unplugging and plugging the DSL modem back in, but there are those few occasions that no internet can be very annoying, especially when it includes your phone service. What we did to eliminate this issue (including power outages where your phone adapter and modems don't work anyway) was to keep a stripped down phone line from AT&T for $5 a month. We can then plug our phone into any jack with a DSL filter on it to make any emergency phone calls we need to make.

On top of all of this we're experimenting with GrandCentral, and really liking it. We're able to give that number out no matter what phone lines we keep or get rid of, and we don't have to tell everyone about a new number. You can choose customized voice mail greetings for specific callers, you can post call buttons on your webpage, and use Google's state of the art spam filtering against telemarketers.

Though all this does seem rather complex and convoluted, it's working for us and saved us $40/mo. The next thing on my to do list is to set up a PBX speaker system in the house :)