Saturday, March 9, 2013

AutoMapper from a List to Class Properties

I just found AutoMapper, a tool I wish I'd had years ago. This can take any of you classes and translate them into another class. This would have been especially useful when I've had to get an object out of and EntityFramework, and add in additional properties before display, which happens quite often. The code for this is pretty simple, an well defined on their site.

I came across AutoMapper from my wife last week, and found it to be a perfect fit for on of my current issues. We're getting data from a Web service that has an Object and a lit of properties with their values, like the following.


I needed to easy map each property to my display object type. There is the option of using reflection (Looping through Object's properties in C# is an excellent example), and looping over each of the properties in my destination object, and filling them from values in the source object. Honestly, I did head down this path a bit, but realized I needed a more flexible solution.

It turns out our Web service may change in the next year or two where it returns properties in the same way my display object uses properties, but may have different names. AutoMapper makes it easy to put the translation logic in one place, and changes in the future will be minimal, and all take place in one location.

I'm now using the following to make the mapping work pretty easily:


The AutoMapper configuration should occur I one location, such as application start. Once we switch the Web service, the mapping can remove the specific property names, and only cover the properties where the display property name is different from the data source.

Peace.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Dry Ice

What does Dry Ice evoke in you? For me I remember clearly selling popsicles at my middle school Fall festival and being reminded constantly not to touch the dry ice, sine I would burn myself. How could ice burn? At some point I did touch my arm, and man it hurt. At the same time, this was the greatest stuff ever, ice that didn't melt into water, and that could burn. Is there anything it couldn't do? Heck, I just read an article about the Orbit, a portable washing machine that is in development and uses dry ice to clean clothes. It also smokes and makes crazy awesome bubbles in milk and soda.

About last Spring I started following the Penguin Dry Ice blog. This s a great place to get information about how you can actually use dry ice. For example, it's a great alternative to regular ice for any coolers, so long as you separate the ice from the food. I had food on top of the ice, and it froze. Turned into freeze dried fruit.

I'd never considered it before since I assumed it was expensive. But, turns out dry ice is about $1 per pound, less than the cost of regular ice in the store. On top of it, 5 pounds of dry ice is much smaller than 5 pounds of regular ice.

You can get it at most grocery stores. All of our local Harris Teeters have it, but you need to show ID and be over 18 to get it.

So, with it being so great, here are the down sides:
  • It only lasts about 24 - 48 hours in the freezer. So you have to buy it about when you plan to use it.
  • It can burn, so it's not for kids to use.
  • You can't put it in a cup as regular ice. It turns into carbon monoxide, which won't kill you, but can give you a headache. You can put you cup in another cup, and have the second cup with dry ice.
It's definitely worth trying out dry ice. It was excellent for our last camping trip.

Peace.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Potty Accidents

While we still struggle with accidents, we've tried a lot of different ideas, therapists, doctors, tests, anything. While we still haven't nipped this in the bud, we do seem to be making progress. A lot of this is thanks to reading It's No Accident: Breakthrough Solutions to Your Child's Wetting, Constipation, UTIs, and Other Potty Problems by Steven Hodges and Suzanne Schlosberg.

It's no secret, they believe most (almost all) kids who have accidents at night or during the day are due to constipation. More specifically, our kids aren't getting enough fiber in their diets (all kids really) and so a lot end up with poop stuffed all in the their colon and the intestines, never really clearing out. So even though kids poop daily, it still doesn't ever clear out.

We haven't gotten to doing an enema or Miralax yet, we really need an X-Ray anyway and to see the doctor again. But adding fiber has definitely made a different for both kids. If you are jut beginning potty training, or still having accidents, I can't recommend enough how useful this book was.

Peace.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Best Free (or really cheap) Activities in DC

Growing up in DC, I had a LOT of time to wander the city, by foot, car and Metro. Here are some of the most memorable things I recommend everyone does. I still don't get tired of doing them.


Smithsonian

It wasn't until College when I spent a semester in London that I realized all museums were not free. This is because everything at the Smithsonian is free. It is, without a doubt, the most complete education you can get for free. History, Culture, Art, Nature, Space, Technology... everything is covered. And it isn't just pictured on the walls, they have activities for kids, family and adults all the time.

While there are obvious options, like the Zoo or the Natural History Museum, I and my kids definitely recommend the following places to visit. The kids are still talking about some.

Natural History Museum

I know I mentioned it as obvious, but I can't overstate how incredible this place is. You should definitely check out the insect exhibit, with LIVE insects. They also have a great butterfly exhibit, but you have to get tickets for a set time. You could spend days seeing everything.

Hirshorn

The Hirshorn Museum is the best lace for anyone even slightly interested in art. They have a lot of modern art, but also exhibits that will really change your way of seeing the world. Colin and Rachel were really taken by the Andy Warhol: Shadows exhibit, where a painting of the same thing was done in 100 panels, all with different color or lighting. Colin, at 4, wanted to get home so he could color one himself. Rachel wanted a picture of a metal doll, so she could draw it. They were both so taken by the art that they wanted to make it themselves. It was incredible.

Sackler

I bet you don't even know this exists. The Sackler gallery has Asian art, with another museum across the garden for African art. What's always interesting about these is that the museum entrance is above ground, but the rest of the museum is set like a silo down 60 feet or so underground. While the exhibits are good, the real difference with the Sackler is that they have a lot of events for kids and families. We went with the in-laws and kids and spent 2 - 3 hours jut taking stamps of the word Love in different languages on Valentine's day in 2012. It doesn't sound great, but it really is an amazing time.

Holocaust

The Holocaust museum always changes my outlook on what we can do as humans. It will be the most depressing thing you do, and you'll remember it for years. It's worth doing, but not with young kids, and generally not unless you're at a place where the depression won't hit you. Remember to get
tickets.

Aquarium

Did you even know there was the National Aquarium in DC? I think it costs $10 per person, and is very small. It's also all underground and well hidden. It also often has pop-up events. We saw and touched different bones of fish and amphibians that they brought out on a rolling table.

Memorials

If you find a nice day, you should walk the mall, from the Washington Monument (definitely get tickets to go up, but there are more impressive high-up places to visit) past the reflecting pool to the Lincoln Memorial, then around Independence Avenue to the George Washington and MLK Memorials.

Off the Mall

Nearby the Washington Mall, but not part of the Smithsonian, is the Old Post Office Pavilion. It has a foo court, which is perfect for a cheap lunch instead of buying in the museums. But also check out the bell tower. It's free, and a simple elevator ride up. In my opinion, it has a much better view of the Mall over what the Monument can offer.

You should also go to the National Cathedral (did you know it's Episcopal, we Episcopalians do know how to go big and get the prime real estate). The garden is awesome for a walk or picnic, and check out the towers, they are the absolute best views of DC.

If you're at the Zoo, or just nearby, make time to see a movie at The Uptown. It's one of the most impressive movie theaters I have ben to. Lots of history, and I love that t has a balcony. I remember my dad taking me there to see Star Wars A New Hope (Episode IV) when I was really young.

Peace.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Kids Activities

I find myself often in a situation where it's some morning, I have the kids for the afternoon, and I'm not sure what to do with them. We could go to a movie, or play Legos, but living near Washington, DC, I want the kids to love the museums as much as I do, or to see what else is going on.

This Sunday, while my wife was travelling, I took the kids to the Chocolate Festival in Old Town Fairfax. I didn't even know there wad an Old Town Fairfax, much less a chocolate festival. It was okay overall, but the best was seeing any type of chocolate you could imagine, and letting the kids pick something for themselves and their teacher.

For finding cheap or free stuff going on nearby with the kids, I have to say About.com has consistently been the best. I tried si.edu (the Smithsonian Website) which is also good, but a little hard to navigate, partly because they have so much going on. At About I did a search of what to do with my kids this weekend, and a bunch of items came up. dc.about.com is really the best place to go.

I'll write about some specific things you must do if you're in DC. These are things I have shared with kids, teens and adults for years, and everyone is always impressed.

Peace.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Comic Book Storage

After you get into comic books, you quickly come to realize you need some way to store them. There are a lot of details on exactly how to store comic books to last years. Heck, there are even companies that you can mail your comic boo to, and will put it I a clamshell to last years.

Honestly, I get comic books to read them, share them with others, and get my kids into them. Some might be worth money, but we're talking about maybe $20 for a few comics, and pennies for others. I would never make back the money I spent. At the same time, I do want then to look brand new for as long as possible. So, focusing on someone who doesn't want to spend much, and keep them safe but accessible, here's what the comic store has taught me.

Bags (Sleeves)

You need to get comic book bags. These are plastic (polypropylene) bags. You should get the Golden Age size. Comics today are more narrow than they used to be, so the Golden Age size doesn't give you a snug fit. But it does give you room to store actual graphic novels or comic books that are thicker than normal.

Boards

The bags are good to keep dust off, but they won't give you support to hold the comic up. It would still flop around, and the spine could crack if the comic was on an uneven surface. So, along with a pack of 100 bags, you also need to buy a pack of 100 board backs.

My comic book store sells a bag and board for 20 cents per comic. Personally I buy a pack of 100 sleeves and 100 backs, since it's a bit cheaper (about $16 total) and lasts a while.

Boxes

To store comics, they have boxes made specifically to store comics. These are called long or short boxes. A long box is twice as long as a short box. I had a coupe short boxes starting out, and now have two long boxes. Most of them are 1/2 - 3/4 full, so I have a lot of room. A long box is really pretty big.

Again, these are pretty inexpensive. About $7 - $12 each. It's definitely worth picking up a small box. Even if you only get a few, you can box them up, put the lid on, and shelve them without worrying what might happen to the comics over time.

Storage

The recommendations I've read is to use a dry, warm environment. Essentially, keep them readily available to read, or at worst in a basement. Light will obviously fade them a bit. But I'm no where close to this being a problem since I'm so new. While a closet shelf would be best, I'm now using the floor in my office.

Have fun keeping the comics forever!

Peace.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Backing Up Movies

I have quite a few DVDs at this point, and a lot of devices (my Surface Pro and iPods) which can't play them (no DVD player built in). So I find I'm nervous about having the DVDs just laying around and would prefer to back them up. A few movies are coming out now with a digital download option, which I have found confusing to use (and you only have a year to download the movie), but it's better than nothing. So I find I really need some way to back up my movies on the computer so that if they were somehow lost, I could get them. On top of it, I would like the ability to bring my movies with me on the iPods or trips. To be clear, I wouldn't want to share the movies with people (beyond my kids), but I do find I need a way to back up DVDs.

After doing a bit of research and working with other options, the best and easiest option I have found is a mix of SlySoft AnyDVD and SlySoft Clone DVD Mobile. I know there are a lot of other options out there, but I really find SlySoft to be the easiest to use for cloning movies. It's worth mentioning that there is ALWAYS a 20% off sale on the site, so don't feel pressured to buy it immediately.

Here's how it all works. SlySoft AnyDVD scans any disc you put in the computer, and removes and copy protection. It doesn't copy movies or anything, and it's clearly stated to use only for backups of movies. But all by itself AnyDVD isn't going to copy movies.

After you have AnyDVD running (it always runs in the background) you can use any program to back up your video. I prefer Clone DVD since it seems to be the easiest one, and the files that it makes are pretty small. I generally choose the iPod format, ten use the defaults for the rest of the options. It takes about a hour to coy each DVD, but then you can store it safely.

Peace.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Securing Your PC

One of the biggest questions I get from people is what they should do to secure their computer. The Conversations go something like this:

Phone: ring... ring... (btw, it's the middle of the day while I'm working without Internet access)
Me: Hey, how are you doing?
Family member: Fine, but I had a quick question... I keep getting pop-ups that say my computer s infected, and my antivirus is out of date, so I should open the window and buy the clean-up service. Does this make sense?
Me: Do you have any security software installed now?
Family Member: The computer had something installed when it came, so I've just kept using that...

This then leads to some emergency troubleshooting, and the computer somehow ends up at my house while I try to get it fixed that evening, so the person isn't without a computer for a day.

Typically most of my family members also don't want to pay the annual fee for some service, so they try to find free alternatives, which seem to sometimes be worse than having nothing. Or a lot of programs I've used have really slowed down my PC. I remember one program that billed itself as having the smallest impact in system performance, but every now and then it would run and get stuck, using so many resources my whole computer was slower than dirt until I rebooted.

After a lot of reading of reviews, and finally pulling the trigger myself for my new computer, I recommend the following.

Free

If you're cheap, or jut very low on funds, Microsoft has it's own Security Essentials which I have used for a few years and it's excellent. Microsoft makes clear that it will protect you, but it would be better to get a paid program. But I never had performance issues nor viruses or adware with this running. So it's a great free alternative, just make sure you are careful what sites you visit (no downloading BitTorrents).

Paid (Best)

PC Magazine has had consistently great reviews of software products. Based on their reviews, and reading user reviews on Amazon, Norton Internet Security is the best option (Norton 360 is also excellent, but the difference is it includes cleaners for your computer, which I never use. The price on Amazon is close to Internet Security, so I chose whatever was cheaper that day).

I've been running Norton 360 on two computers, and it has been excellent. Very easy to use, and generally runs in the background.

The one thing I recommend is checking Amazon each year when your renewal is up. The annual renewal through Norton is something like $70 per year, which seems crazy, even for 3 PCs. On Amazon Norton Internet Security is $22, so the next year you can buy Norton again, then put in the key to get another year of service. It's more work, but saves you about $40 per year.

Peace.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thinking Games

One of the things I’ve been blessed enough to get to do is read to my daughters class. In Second grade this was the highlight of my month. I got to pick any book I wanted, usually something a little off-normal, and watch the kids actual;y be interested in the story. In almost all cases I left the books behind so the kids could borrow them throughout the year.

I remember clearly how I read Crazy Hair by Neil Gaiman (picked up that morning in a rush from the Comic Book Store… They saved the day). After that I mentioned that there was another book, The Wolves in the Walls, but it was kind of scary, so I didn’t bring it. They unanimously decided they wanted The Wolves in the Walls, and asked me about it the next month. That book went over really well with them.

I usually got 15 minutes, and a book would take maybe 5 – 10 minutes, so I always had a few minutes left over to fill. At those times it’s always worth having a set of Rory’s Story Cubes handy. They have a set of things (vowels) and verbs (actions). You just roll a set and make up some story based on the pictures that come up.
In the class I would roll and make up the story for the kids. But at home or with friends we split the dice, so each person adds to the story. It’s similar to being at camp, where you go around the circle, each person adding to a story, but a little more directed which helps move things along.

For example, with this roll:


I get:

Once there was a boy who was in love with apples. He was drawn to them like a magnet to steel, nothing could keep them apart. He could sniff out an apple no matter where it was, his nose was an apple compass. He loved apples so much, his mother decided to take him to an orchard, where he had a great time pointing out apples that had fallen among the flowers.

While he was pointing out one specific, beautiful apple, a swarm of bees came down on him. The swarm landed on him like a star falling from the sky. He was quickly burning everywhere from the stings.

The boy hadn’t realized that he had accidentally stepped on a bee hive. In case you didn’t know, the bee hive is like a pyramid, a sacred shrine that they also get to call home and work in, alongside their queen. This specific bee sat upon her throne, ruling over her subjects while she devoured everything in her path, like a swarm of beetles protecting the throne and burrowing under the skin of anyone who comes near, devouring them from the inside out.

Anyone else have a simple, fun thinking game?

Peace.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Best Tuna

I’ve been on a diet for the past few months where I can eat anything I want for 4 days of the week, but for three I have a very strict diet. In that lunch every day is tuna fish, with very little seasoning. It’s safe to say that over the past 4 months I’ve become somewhat of an aficionado of tuna fish, at least what I can get at the store.

It was pretty funny actually, I recall clearly one Friday evening out with the family and in-laws, and saw a Gold Box deal (between November 1st and Christmas they have hourly deals of almost anything, but they only come up at certain times and sell out quickly for popular stuff) for, you guessed it, tuna fish. More specifically, 24 cans of Crown Prince Tuna. My wife thought I was crazy, but it was pretty good. Over the next three months I single handedly worked my way through the box, and decided to see what else was available, so I’ve gone through a few different store brands and commercial brands like Star Kist, Star Burst (okay, maybe tune flavored Star Burst?), Chicken of the Sea, some Tuna in oil (packed like sardines, it was pretty good, but $4 – $6 per can), and even Sashimi tuna (think sushi without the rice).

Yesterday I tried one of the last brands, and I was stunned. This was, without a doubt, the best tuna I had ever eaten. Wild Planet tuna is excellent! It’s definitely cheaper in the grocery store than on Amazon. I was reading the can later, and saw they use sashimi grade tuna. Really though, it’s been over a day and I’m still thinking about it and telling other people about it.  If you’re looking for some excellent tuna, Wild Planet is the way to go.

Peace.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Windows 8: Day 1

So, you decided to get a Windows 8 laptop with a touch screen. Or you upgraded your old compute to Windows 8. It’s worth noting your experience with just a mouse will be somewhat different from using a touch screen. I find the touch screen more intuitive overall, but the mouse does work.

Getting Started

While I rarely read the manual for things, I definitely recommend you first step be to read Microsoft’s Getting Started page. There are a lot of tips on how to use the windows, close programs, and how to use the mouse.

The best option, if you have a Microsoft Store nearby, is t stop in and let a dales person help. All the people I talked to were excellent, and explained first thing some of the most useful things they have found.

The most useful things I’ve found are:
  • Search: On the tile screen, just start typing and your apps will search. You can also press Internet Explorer to search the Web.
  • Switch to last program: Swipe from the left side of the screen.
  • Select from all running programs: Swipe from the left, drag the window back to the left side.
  • Close an app you are using: Slide your finger from the top of the screen to the bottom.
  • Close an app you’re not using: Slide from the left side, pause for a half-second in the middle of the screen, then drag it down.
  • Log in: Swipe right and choose Settings –> Choose PC Settings. Select Users and check out the login options. You can set up a PIN, or a Photo Password. Right now I love the photo password, though you definitely need to get it right.
In all cases, when I say slide from the right or top of the screen, I mean put your finger off of the screen, and slide onto it. The Microsoft page has some good detail here.

As I blog I find myself writing in one app, swiping from the left to bring up IE and find a link or information, copy it, swipe from the left, going back to Live Writer, and pasting in. It’s a great way to swap between two windows quickly.

Live (Hotmail) Account

If you didn’t set up a Microsoft account when you set up Windows 8, you certainly need to wen buying apps in the Microsoft Store. One of the nice things here is that your account gets you 7Gb of storage on SkyDrive, where you can share photos. It will also share some of your settings, including letting you use you Microsoft password on any computer where your account has been set-up.

We have two Windows 8 PCs at home now, so I have an account on my wife’s computer, and she has one on mine. She just added my Email to the computer, and now I can use my password on both computers, and get most of my settings. It won’t automatically download and show all my apps, which is a bummer, but at least when I download them in the App store I don’t have to pay again, and it keeps my settings.

Family Safety

If you have kids, it’s worth getting them Email accounts. We set one up for each kid, and have begun talking about internet safety. With their Email set up, we were able to add them as child users on each laptop. Again their password and settings are shared. But more importantly, online we can work with Microsoft’s Internet Safety. We can limit what the kids do, how much time they spend in apps, and we get a weekly Email of how much time thy have spent.

The only down side to them having their own account is that if you bought an app for yourself, you will have to buy it again for each kid. We’re using this as an opportunity for them to understand how much things cost, and use their own allowance, or as a special gift for being good.

Setting this up was incredibly easy. Swipe from right and choose Settings –> Change PC Settings. Select Users and scroll down and select Add User. If the kids don’t have an account, you can just type one in for them, and you’ll get a screen to fill in more information. You will have to get you credit card charged once for 50 cents to confirm you are an adult, but once you do it once you don’t need to for additional kids.

After it’s all set up you can change permissions and settings on the Web from any computer at the Family Safety site. Their Internet Safety site is great, and well worth looking over to discuss with your kids.

Most Under-appreciated app

The best built-in, under-appreciated app is Music. It’s like Spotify, where you can plan any song, album, or set up playlists. What Music does better than Spotify is easily show new albums, and they have absolutely anything you could want available the day it goes live. There are a few albums you have to pay for, or wait a few weeks. But you’d have the same problem with Spotify. The user interface with Music is incredible, and very simple to use.

Peace.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What laptop should I get?

Assumptions

Admittedly, this is as question asked all over the place, and the answer is always “it depends”. So, I’m going to make some assumptions:
  • You’re a normal person, not a programmer like me.
  • You understand what being online is, but you aren’t overly technical.
  • You don’t want to spend a ton of money, but you want something that will last for the next 5 years if possible, 2 years at a minimum.
  • You think Windows is confusing, and have heard the Mac is easy and more secure, but you could go either way, since cost is a factor.
  • How much can I expect to pay?

Tablets

To be clear, it’s very possible you don’t need a laptop at all. A lot of people can get by with a tablet that has the a ability to offload pictures from your camera, copy music from your CDs or download music online, write Emails, surf the Web (and it is Web with a capital W, though more and more that is falling out of favor… dumb English as an evolving language), and play games, both online and on your computer. The iPad or Microsoft Surface RT would do all of these things (it’s slightly more difficult to get music and photos onto an iPad, but it’s possible if you do everything online, or have an old computer laying around to store files). I’ll make clear right now, I’m not a fan of Android, tablets or phones. While they are highly customizable, they are also highly confusing for a normal person, and almost everyone I know well that has an Android phone has had problems with it. So, find a Google fanboy to get recommendations there, but the Galaxy Note might be my only recommendation.

Laptops

This is easier than it may sound. Be ready to pay about $700 – $1,200 for a laptop.
There are a lot of cheaper options out there, but you absolutely, without a doubt, must get a laptop with a touch screen. Everything with a touch screen right now (except for tablets) are a minimum of $700. This will come down though if you’re patient. Within the next year (two at most) Apple, Google and Microsoft will all have operating systems which will be significantly harder to use without a touch screen.
This touch screen requirement also means Apple is probably out of the running. There are rumors the next MacBook will have a touch screen, as well as Google’s Chromebook, so you could wait. The Chromebook will be cheap, but run nothing you really want except for things you can consume, like games and surfing the Web. Apple’s will be hugely expensive, and probably have an interface similar to the iPhone/iPad. To be clear, these are all my guesses from what I’ve read recently, I may be entirely wrong.
With that said, right now I’d highly recommend Microsoft’s Surface Pro, or another “convertible” Microsoft laptop running Windows 8. If you’re lucky enough to have a Microsoft Store nearby, I’d recommend going in. They have a bunch of different laptops (of course including their own Surface Pro on prominent display), and I really liked Samsung’s ATIV with a detachable keyboard. Lenovo also has the Ideatab that looks excellent.
On top of it, the Microsoft sales staff are excellent! We went in before the Surface Pro came out, just to look at RT and get a feel for the keyboards. I and the sales guy got into a somewhat techie conversation, and he showed us every oddity you can do to make the Windows 8 tile interface usable. We talked and looked at their laptops, but he didn’t try and push anything on us, knowing I was not buying anything that day.
Best Buy may have more laptops to look at, and may be your only option if you’re not near a Microsoft Store, so it’s worth checking there as well. But the staff and offers by Microsoft couldn’t be beat. We even got the damage warranty there since the reviews were so good on their repair service, and it was cheaper than anywhere else by $150 (the warranty is 2 years for $99 right now, but will go up to $150). I don’t know if this will apply to other laptops or just Surfaces.
Full disclosure her, I have a Surface Pro. I love it, bought it the week it came out, but not the day (they sold out, and I drove store people nuts calling everyday) and can’t recommend it enough. It is either $900 or $1,000 depending on the hard drive size, but this is exactly what I want in a laptop. I so still need to buy an external drive to store my growing 500 Gb collection of photos, music, videos and documents.
You could also go with a laptop that doesn’t detach from the screen. One of the biggest reasons for this is you would probably have the ability to get a bigger hard drive, add RAM later, replace components (I mean, have your tech savvy sibling, son, daughter or in-law replace components). It will also mean the keyboard is heavier than the screen (the ones that detach all the computer innards are behind the screen, so it will be a little top heavy). Having the keyboard be heavier will feel more natural, but you will also get used to a heavier screen, we already do with tablets.
As a side note, the Surface Pro is the only laptop I know of which has a pen for input. Windows RT does NOT support pen, which is unfortunate. The FreshPaint app is stellar, and I’d think anyone into painting or drawing would love a Surface Pro with FreshPaint. Of course I jut saw Microsoft published FreshPaint, so I inadvertently seem like even MORE of a Microsoft fan boy. It is the closest thing I’ve seen to really painting on a laptop.

While Windows 8 is INCREDIBLY different from other versions of Windows, I am finding I prefer living with the tiles for everything, and don’t like going to the desktop as much. But those are details for another day.

Things to Look For

Here’s the low-down on what you should be looking for in you next laptop. If you want to avoid the jargon, and just get something simple, check out Widows RT or Windows 8. I promise, if you don’t know whether processing speed, RAM or hard drive contribute most to performance, you’ll probably be happy with either of these. But if you do want to compare, here’s what you should know:
  • Minimum of 4Gb RAM, I doubt you could find on with less
  • Any CPU on the market today will be fine
  • Solid State Hard Drive (it doesn’t have any moving parts, so less chance to fail – still BACK UP- and faster than any normal hard drive, but also smaller)
  • Something you are comfortable with. Not wither Windows is different from Mac, but something you like holding, it’s light, and you feel like you could carry it anywhere. Something you want to show off to your friends.
I hope this helps. If you were in my family, this is what I’d recommend, but I’m always open t having my mind swayed.
Peace,
-Tom

Monday, February 25, 2013

Is It Wednesday Yet?

About a year and a half ago I read an article about DC Comic’s New 52, where DC would reset all of their comics, and restart at #1. I’d never bought comics before, and generally considered them to be for teenage boys, and not overly interesting. I mean, why look at a book with little text and lots of pictures, when you can read a novel with a deep story and visualize the story yourself? What I found surprised me, a lot.

I’ve mainly been taken by the art, which is incredible. This is definitely not the comic book you saw in the 70’s – 90’s, with the very cartoony characters.

I’m also finding I love the long stories where we get to meet and learn about characters and be a part of their lives. It feels a lot like watching a TV show, where you have some ongoing stories as well as short, quick stories to keep things interesting.

So, if you are jut getting started with comics, there are things I wish I knew. But I’m last least glad the staff and owners of Laughing Ogre Comics, my local comic book store, let me do my own thing, but explained every question I had.

While I am by no means an expert, I still don’t know the names of almost any writers or artists, I can share what I know.

Stories

There are a ton of different stories, by a bunch of publishers. The main ones are DC, Marvel, Valiant (run by DC but had grittier, more adult – not sexual - comics), IDW (more independents, but great stories with Star Trek, Dr. Who, Star Wars, Transformers, TMNT and Ghotsbusters and others), Dark Horse Comics, Icon, and others I can’t think of off the top of my head. Needless to say, there are a lot of publishers, and even more series.

Mainly you’ll start reading comics based on your favorite super hero, but then you may find yourself gravitating toward other stories with no super heroes at all. Colin, my 5 year old, loves super heroes, but now is also reading The Stuff of Legend, a dark book about stuffed animals who enter “The Dark” where no animal has returned to rescue their owner, the boy, and get into some epic plot. If you have young kids, I strongly recommend the two issue book Fairy Quest.

Some comics have very short stories that don’t really overlap. Dr. Who (IDW) is like this, with maybe three comics telling one story, then you move on. Most though have an ongoing story, like Supergirl (DC Comics) where she misses home, doesn’t feel comfortable on earth, is slowly making friends, but never fits in. While this is going on there may be a story three comic books long about her fighting some monster or her finding remnants of Krypton.

Some heroes will have multiple comics. There are a million X-Men comics. A Superman, Action Comics Superman, and Smallville, all with completely different stories. There are apparently 12 comics in the Batman universe, 5 or 6 starring Batman. So if you like Batman, check out a few and pick one.

Depending on the publisher, the comic will be different. I prefer DC Comics, I find the art to be more deep (maybe just 3D feeling), and the stories better. Marvel has more text, and the art is different, relying a lot on long term stories. Its worth checking out comics in a store if possible.

For a quick overview:
DC Comics: Batman, Flash, Green Arrow, Green Lantern, Superman, Justice League, Wonder Woman
Marvel: Captain America, Captain Marvel, Avengers, X-Men

Wednesdays

Each comic series is published monthly. So, if you read Wonder Woman, a new Wonder Woman comic will come out once a month. Some comics may be every two weeks (new comics seem to do this sometimes), and others (usually independent comics) come out less often, possibly every few months.

Every week I look forward to Wednesdays. This is the day new comics come out. Think of it like Tuesdays for music (you knew new music albums come out on Tuesdays, right)? So, every Wednesday a batch of new comics come out. That’s when you’ll find me (and a lot of other people) at the comic book store.

If you are wondering when you next comic is coming up, there are a few lists you could follow. Personally I subscribe in an RSS feed to Comics List.

Cost

It’s very cheap to start with comics, they cost between $3 – $4 for a monthly comic. But it’s worth realizing this can add up quickly. I subscribe to about 30 comics, which comes out to about $200 per month. My wife prefers this to me getting jumping stilts or shooting bows and arrows, so we’ve got it now I the budget.

Subscriptions

Most comic book stores (and some online) will let you subscribe to a comic. So, say you like Wonder Woman (she’s one of the best, strong, non-sexualized female characters I know). You can subscribe, and every time Wonder Woman comes comes out, the store will set it aside for you. That way you don’t HAVE to go every Wednesday, you can go once a month and just pick it up.
In some cases you may even get a discount. At my store, I you subscribe to 10 monthly comics, you get 10% off everything you buy.

Where

I can’t recommend enough going to your local comic book store. You can find them at Comic Shop Locator. If you don’t have a comic store nearby, you can subscribe online at tfaw or Midtown Comics. I haven’t used any of these, so I have no idea.

I recommend local both because it supports to local store, but also be cause it’s really the best place to find new stuff. Every week at my store they highlight new comics on the shelves and by the counter. They also notice if my comic has a wrinkle, and puts it away and gets me a new one. I know the staff ad people, a little about their life, but also about their passion for comics. Rob at my store knows what I like, and will often put new comics similar to my tastes into my box each week.

Big Bang Theory

Okay, this has almost nothing to do with comics. But they do spend time in the comic book store a bit, and even have recent comics on the shelves. It’s great to laugh at them. Bu they do have a $1 section, I’d love that sometimes :)

Peace

Sunday, February 24, 2013

It’s My Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To

Today is my birthday! Honestly, I’ve never been much into birthdays and parties. Even now, if you ask me how old I am, I have to do math… What year is it now? 2013… so…

2013 – 1975 = 38

Really I make it more difficult. I know the decade, I’m on my 30’s. So, then I take the year (13) – 5 (the year in the 70’s) and add that to 30.

30 + (13 – 5) = 38

I’m sure I could also use lunar cycles, or division. Let’s see:

(the number of leap years between my 1975 and 2013) * 4 + (the number of years since the last leap year) = 38 (I hope)

Every year since I was about 16 I get the song “It’s my Party and I’ll Cry if I Want To” by Leslie Gore in my head. No idea why, but it got me thinking about how we can best listen to music. But… it’s my birthday, and I’m keeping this short.

Music Discovery (replacing the radio)

Slacker to find music. I loved Pandora for a while, but Slacker, with humans making stations, and even DJs on some stations, along with the ability to skip songs and favorite them, and even make a station based on an artist, and choose to hear all, some or little of that artist are jut incredible options that no one else offers. It’s what I use in the car and at work all day. I do pay $4 a month since I like listening to music offline on my phone, I like unlimited skips and I like their ABC News. The free version is fine for most people.

Specific Albums

If you have Windows 8, use Windows 8 Music. It has any dong you could ever want, the interface is excellent, and the ads are infrequent. If you want to skip ads, and listen on your Widows 8 Phone, it’s $100 a year (cheaper than Spotify or anyone else sine they’re $9 a month… do the math).
My choice before getting Widows 8 was Spotify. It’s free, you can listen to just about anything, and their apps are incredible. I had a bunch, some which showed lyrics as the song played, found playlists of others I could follow, and had a nice interface. It really is a great service, and I had been a subscriber for a year or so, paying the $9 a month. I left though since I mostly listen to music on my phone, and their Windows Phone 7 app was only okay, and they took months to make a Windows Phone 8 app that was identical to the old one. Also, to listen on the phone you have to pay the $9 per month.

Final Decision

My final music decision is that I pay $4 for Slacker for car ride and all day listening. I listen to new albums that come out in Windows 8 Music (Spotify stinks at showing you newly released albums you might like) for free. If I find n album I really like I buy it on Amazon (cheaper than anywhere) and use their Cloud player or download the album locally. This has the added benefit of supporting the musician and the publisher (a dubious benefit there), where streaming services, even paid, give almost nothing to the artist. This Visualization is excellent.

Through this post I’ve been listening to “It’s My Party” in Widows 8 Music.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Rebooted

It’s been quite a while, and I must say that I’ve missed blogging. Really, more specifically, creating and building instead of consuming all of the time. Of course, I get to build and contribute a lot at work, and that has really become incredibly rewarding over the past year. I also stopped blogging because it felt like I really didn’t have anything more to say at the time.

I was talking about my relationship with God, and how we can live our relationships with each-other. Incredibly important conversations, but nothing that other people aren’t already taking about. And it’s really just more useful to have those conversations in person whenever possible.

Recently thought I’ve really felt God pushing me toward contributing again, but in a different way from what I had done before. I’m finding that a lot of things I assume others know from just listening to the news, or searching (I prefer Bing, so I won’t say “Googling” but I’ll NEVER say “Binging”), really no one knows.

So, this Lent, I’ll be posting each day on something people have been asking about, or I think people really need to know. These aren’t current events or anything, but focused on things I have really learned over the years about living with computers, or life with kids (though I’ll focus more on the concrete technical stuff whenever I can).I plan to talk about things like:

  • What type of laptop should I buy if I were buying right now?
  • I just got a Windows 8 laptop (or installed Windows 8), what now?
  • How do I protect my PC, or remove a virus?
  • What cool thing have you done while programming (admittedly, this would be a small audience)?
  • What’s a great best game for building stories, or for family time?
  • My kid has accidents, how can I help?
  • I want to get into Comic books, how do I start?
  • I never thought about comic books, convince my why I’m misguided?
  • I’m cheap, what are some great Web comics to read?
  • I’m cheap, what’s the best way to listen to music?
  • Over the air radio is so repetitive, what can I do to make my drive more interesting?
  • I want to cut the cord with Cable, how can I do it, or what are the trade-offs?
  • What’s a good way to spend time with God outside church (okay, so it’s not ALL concrete stuff)?
  • What’s the best song of all time (we did this in church last week, and they got it wrong),and how can I listen to it for free?

Feel free to let me know what you’d like me to talk about first, if you have a preference. Or is there anything you’ve been dying to ask me that I haven’t answered before?

Peace,
-Tom