personal, gaming comments edit

I’m going to do a lot of very small personal updates all in one fell swoop. Here we go!

  • Gotlaser hair removal treatment #11on my face on Saturday morning. They recalibrated the laser and replaced the diode in it, so it was more powerful than before. They had to take it down a couple of notches. Results are still looking good and my chin is still the stubborn part. I wasn’t allowed to shave at all on Sunday morning (to let my face recoup) so by Sunday you could really see how patchy I am. Next time is the last in my latest pack of six, so I’ll probably be getting another pack. Hopefully by the end of 18 I’ll have things pretty well cleared out. We’ve had quite a bit of decent progress in this last set of six.
  • Did fireworks for theReed Collegealumni reunion Saturday night. Jenn and I have our state pyrotechnician licenses up for renewal, but since last fourth of July we did the Walla Walla, WA show it doesn’t count towards our Oregon license renewal requirements. Doing this show made up for that and we can now get renewed. Since we’re doing Walla Walla again this year, we’ll have to do another make-up show. Hopefully we can get an Oregon show next year so it counts towards the licenses.
  • I beat Professor Layton and the Curious Village on Sunday. Jenn got this game for her Nintendo DS a few weeks ago and I tried it out, quickly becoming addicted. The puzzles are great, many of them classic programming puzzles. We woke up tired Sunday morning and I flipped on the DS… and suddenly it was three hours later and I had finally beat the game. A great game, highly recommended. Looks like there’s going to be a sequel, too, which I look forward to.
  • This morning, my Outlook calendar disappeared. I fired up Outlook this morning and it informed me that “Outlook closed improperly last time” and that there were “some errors.” Looking at my calendar, nothing was on it. I quickly went to the webmail view of Outlook and all my stuff was still there, so it was a problem with my local profile. I’ve deleted and recreated my profile locally but… well, I started getting a lot of unfortunate behavior from other Office apps. Turns out there were some security patches pushed this weekend that I got when I booted up this morning. Other people are seeing unfortunate behavior as well. So, after fighting with delete/recreate for some time, I’m doing the full Office reinstall. This won’t take any time at all.

GeekSpeak comments edit

The major use case for BlackBerry seems to be integrating with a corporate environment… which is great if either your company will freely let you attach to their BlackBerry Enterprise Server or, better still, will just provide you with a BlackBerry directly. But what about the rest of us - individuals who want a PDA to keep themselves organized?

BlackBerry Curve
8330I recently got tired of carting around a cell phone and a Pocket PC, and I was hoping to get a better client for email, maybe a better camera, and GPS ability, so I jumped on the BlackBerry bandwagon with a BlackBerry Curve 8330.

I chose this one for a few reasons:

  • Of the selections available at Verizon Wireless at the time, this one seemed to have the most features I was looking for - GPS, all-around messaging, decent camera with a flash, ability to synchronize with Outlook.
  • My Pocket PC was a Windows Mobile device and while I tried to find another Windows Mobile device, I wasn’t too into the way it handled messaging.
  • I wanted to try something a little different than I was used to - break out of my little Windows Mobile world.
  • The BlackBerry plan was $15/month cheaper than the corresponding Windows Mobile or Palm device plan. Go figure.

So far I like it, but there are some things I wish someone told me while I was setting it up… so I’m going to tell you. Again, remember I’ve never had a BlackBerry before, so all you BlackBerry users are probably like, “Duh!” but it’s not obvious to the folks who haven’t done it. And remember - this is how it works for me on a personal BlackBerry. I’ve never had one that integrates with a BES, but I can’t imagine it’s too different.

SMS and MMS text messages are treated as different entities. This doesn’t really happen on a regular cell phone - you want to send a message, you don’t really have to choose “which type of message.” You insert a picture, you type some text, magic happens, the person gets the message. On BlackBerry, you have to consciously choose which type of message you want to send someone - there are actually different options for “MMS (phone number here)” and “SMS (phone number here).” They all go to the same inbox, you just have to be conscious when sending. I thought this was sort of odd, but you get used to it.

Native email integration with BlackBerry commingles text messages with your email. Basically, everything incoming is treated like a “message.” It’s a reasonable way to think about things, but you sometimes have to be consciously aware of the type of message so you respond in the right way. It can get a little confusing.

The email integration setup service may make changes to your email account. I noticed when I told it to set up integration with my GMail account that it automatically enabled both POP and IMAP on my account without even asking me or telling me after the fact. I don’t know what it does to other services, but be warned - you may see it make some changes in the name of helping you and it won’t actually tell you what it did, just that “setup was successful.”

BlackBerry syncs up with Outlook (or Notes, etc.)  through a “BlackBerry Desktop Manager” program. Windows Mobile has ActiveSync, BlackBerry has BlackBerry Desktop Manager. The key differences:

  • ActiveSync runs as a service, BDM doesn’t. ActiveSync will just start up and go - you need to have a BlackBerry Desktop Manager icon in your Windows Startup group to get it to go when you log in.
  • ActiveSync sits nicely in your system tray, BDM takes up space in the task bar.Sort of annoying if you have it running all day. I’ll tell you how to fix this below.
  • ActiveSync detects changes in Outlook and syncs your device real-time when it’s connected, BDM requires you to manually initiate the sync. I’m still getting used to this.
  • ActiveSync syncs up way faster than BDM. Not sure why this is, but an ActiveSync cycle would take about 5 - 10 seconds on my Pocket PC; a full sync cycle in BDM is more like 20 seconds.

Based on what I’ve learned, here are some recommendations to make things smooth:

  • Get the unlimited data plan for your phone. I shouldn’t even have to say this, but once you start playing with BlackBerry, you’re going to get pounded on data charges if you don’t just pony up the extra $10/month or whatever for unlimited data. Plus, this way you can let your email and such constantly check and alert you when there are new messages. Isn’t that the point?
  • Talk to your carrier about GPS options. It turns out that Verizon locks the GPS down on these things so it only works with their proprietary VZNavigator app (which is an additional $10/month). It’s not a bad app, but I don’t have any other options - even mobile Google Maps can’t detect it because the signal’s blocked. If you’re going to use the GPS, find out if there are any restrictions.
  • Separate your email and SMS/MMS text messages. This will create two separate “inbox” icons - one for your emails, one for SMS/MMS text messages. It’s a nice way to help you make that mental distinction, and if you’re just using GMail (see below), you can hide the email inbox so it’s not bugging you on your home screen. Go to the “Messages” application, hit the BlackBerry key and select “Options,” then “General Options.” Set the “SMS and Email Inboxes” option to “Separate” and save your changes.
  • If you use GMail, get the mobile GMail application and skip native integration. GMail has a nice message threading model, searchability, and other features that you will sorely miss when every incoming GMail item looks like a flat text message with no context. The mobile GMail application looks like a miniature version of GMail and keeps all of that intact, plus it integrates nicely with the BlackBerry notification mechanism so you can still get alerted when new emails come in. (In the Profiles application, go to Advanced, then select the profile you want to change the notification for. Edit the profile and you’ll see a “GMail - New Mail” option you can configure.)
  • Manually configure synchronization settings. When you set up BlackBerry Desktop Manager to sync with Outlook or whatever, the default settings are a bit cumbersome to work with. In BDM, select the “Synchronize” option and a dialog will pop up. On the “Configuration” tab, click “Configure synch…” (If you aren’t allowed to click the button, connect your BlackBerry to the computer.) You should see a list of things you’re synchronizing (Calendar, Contacts, etc.). Now…
    • If you’re synchronizing your calendar, select “Calendar” and click the “Setup…” button. This will walk you through setting up your calendar. If you’ve already set it up, the dialog will be populated with the values you previously selected and you can just click the “Next” button until you get to the “Options” dialog (otherwise, set up your calendar with appropriate values until you get to “Options”). For the “Calendar date range,” select “Transfer only future items.” Odd things seem to happen if you transfer items in the past, particularly if they have Outlook reminders attached to them… Outlook updates the device, the device thinks there are changes and updates Outlook, and the cycle never ends. Also, you may need to experiement with the “Remove alarm for past items” box. Even though you’re only transferring future items, after sync I’ve had Outlook constantly pop up reminders for things that happened within the last 24 hours until I checked this box. I’ve also had all of the reminders for recurring meetings (past and future) cleared out after a sync because the sync thought it was being helpful.
    • Click the “Advanced…” button and another dialog will pop up with a tab corresponding to every item you’re syncing. On each tab, uncheck the “Confirm record deletions” and “Confirm changes and additions” boxes. Having these checked means that any time there’s even a single change on your device or in Outlook, it’s going to pop up a box to make you manually verify any changes taking place. This is good for debugging, but a pain if you just want it to sync.
  • Organize your applications with folders. There are some of the applications, like the “Options” stuff, that you’ll want to access occasionally (so you don’t want to hide them) but you also don’t want them cluttering up your home screen. Create folders for these and move the rarely-used apps into the folders. For example, I have a “Settings” folder that has all of the setup applications in it.
  • Hide BlackBerry Desktop Manager in the system tray.You don’t want it taking up task bar space, right? Go download and install TrayIt! - it’s an application that can take any other app and hide it in the system tray when it’s minimized. Set TrayIt! up so it always starts minimized and runs at system startup (I think these are the default options). While BDM is running and the main window is showing, right-click the “minimize” button on the BDM window and you should see an option “Place in System Tray” - select that. Now when you minimize BDM, it’ll go to the system tray instead of staying in the task bar. Finally, go to your startup group and find the BDM shortcut. Right-click the shortcut and select “Properties.” On the “Shortcut” tab in the Properties dialog, for the “Run” option select “Minimized.” This will start BDM up and automatically minimize it. This, in conjunction with TrayIt!, will make the BlackBerry Desktop Manager feel like it’s working “in the background” instead of taking up space on the desktop.
  • If you want a password manager, find a third-party app. The “Password Keeper” app that comes on the BlackBerry is really limited and doesn’t let you sync up with your desktop… so it won’t interact with any of the other password management apps you probably already have running. Find one that you like that will sync with a desktop (or at least import/export from other programs) and get it. I haven’t found one I like yet, so I can’t make a recommendation. I tried SplashID and was less than impressed, but a lot of people like it. CrackBerry has some reviews and options if you are interested.

BlackBerries are great for both corporate and personal use. If you’re looking into it and were on the fence, it’s a pretty good experience all around. Hopefully this will help you set things up in a reasonable way if you do take the plunge.

I hate shopping for cards because they’re always super lame. The art is always the same, the sentiments inside are campy and cliché… I always end up getting something and sort of apologizing for the lameness of it all.

I found PaPaYa! cards at Elephant’s Deli this weekend and I’m sold. They’re blank inside, which is fine, and the art is amazing and cool and creative and different. I’m going to have to see what holidays are coming up that I need to send cards for and start ordering.

Yesterday our cat Jack passed. He was only about a year and a half old.

Jack naps on the back of the

We got Jack back in February of last year after Jenn’s cat, Semper, died just before Christmas 2006. He was a Siamese-Tabby mix with beautiful blue eyes that always said “I’m innocent!” even after he got into trouble.

He was a wild man and a lot of fun. While most cats will have their “wild half-hour” in the evening, Jack had more of a “sleeping half-hour” and was a maniac the rest of the time. We named him Jack after the character Jack Bauer on 24, because Jack Bauer’s always “gone rogue” on the show, and this little guy was rogue all the time. He never got tired of playing - to the point where he’d get so tired he’d pant like a dog with his tongue out (which isn’t normal for a cat) but still wouldn’t stop running around. The above picture was one of his few calm moments from around a year ago.

He loved rubbing his little rubbery cat lips against your nose. He also liked to lick your nose, which got to be sort of a game where you’d pick him up and tell him to “pay the toll” and he’d reluctantly lick your nose after some cajoling. He loved being chased around the house. He loved running through this “cat racket tunnel” we have in the living room (and, boy, would he make a racket!). He loved tormenting the other cat we have, Xev. He loved hiding under your legs if you were sitting on the floor (sort of a “cat fort”). So playful and loving.

He was sort of a destructive little beast, too. He’d chew anything he wasn’t supposed to - shoelaces, cords, you name it. There’s a spot on the couch where he would “clean the couch” by licking it and the couch is just destroyed right there. He’d chew (or eat) anything he wasn’t supposed to… but really had no interest in your food, just your hair/shoelaces/clothing.

In the last few months of his life, he started puking on a weekly basis (we called him “Rain Man” because he’d only puke on Sundays and only on the carpet) and it looked like he might have a food allergy or inflammatory bowel disease (both of which are common). He also started peeing in places he shouldn’t, but after taking him to the vet we found the two behaviors were unrelated - he might have something causing him to puke, but he was peeing (not marking, just peeing) just to be a jerk and assert himself.

We took him in to a high-end referral center yesterday to get him endoscoped and find out for sure what was causing him to puke so we could treat the right thing - whether he had eaten something he shouldn’t have (not surprising) or whether it was IBD.

At the center they checked him in and gave him a mild pre-op sedative in preparation for the full anaesthetic. They also put in his IV and a technician put him into his cage. Jack started “burrowing” under a towel in his cage, so the tech - still standing right there - sent another tech to get a nice fleece blanket for him. Before the other tech could return with the blanket, the first tech noticed Jack had collapsed and was lying in an odd position. They immediately got the doctor and saw that Jack’s heart was down to 20bpm. They started some emergency procedures and gave him some drugs to get his heart rate back up but he never really recovered - he started bleeding from the mouth and his heart stopped shortly after that. They tried CPR on him for 10 minutes but were unable to revive him.

The doctor, who is very highly rated, was absolutely stumped. There was no reason for him to collapse, no reason for this to happen. They were so stumped, they offered to do an autopsy for free to find out what happened and make sure this doesn’t happen to other pets. We took them up on it and preliminary results literally didn’t find anything. He looked like he had IBD (as we suspected), but no one knows where the blood came from that was draining from his mouth. Some tissue samples have been sent off to the lab for analysis, but this really was a freak occurrence. (Update: It looks like Jack died of epinephrine reversal.)

It was totally unexpected and we don’t blame the doctor or the facility. Of all the patients they had in that day, Jack was the one they were least worried about because he totally checked out as healthy. It’s just an unfortunate circumstance that’s thrown our little world into disarray.

Jack was a very sweet boy. If you met him, you loved him instantly, even if you weren’t a cat person. We had a lot of fun together and we were looking forward to many more years of fun with that wild little boy that now will never be seen.

I’m sorry we didn’t get to spend that time together, Jackal-boy. We’ll miss you and we love you.

GeekSpeak, net comments edit

ExpertI am fortunate enough to have been named a Typemock Expert.

What does that mean? In their words…

Typemock Experts are independent developers, architects, trainers, and other professionals who provide a vital link between Typemock and the developers’ community. They write books, articles or blogs on a wide range of topics, from pragmatic unit testing to development methodologies.

Thanks, Typemock! (And if you’re not in the Typemock community yet, what are you waiting for?)