Building a PC

Eve has been wanting to build a gaming PC. We finally found time for me to help her do it.

She’s been using her work laptop for playing Guild Wars 2 with us. It’s got a decent graphics chip, but a slow 5400rpm hard drive (encrypted, too!), so the game has been slow and flaky at times. I gave her a USB3 flash drive to run the game from because that’s actually faster than the internal HD, but it doesn’t help much. So this was good motivation for her to want a new computer – along with her feeling that building a PC will give her “geek cred;” it’s just something that a true computer geek must do at some point. (I called it “building her lightsaber.”)

It’s my belief that building a PC is better than buying a pre-built one. Besides the learning experience (and it is a learning experience), a PC can be built from good, reliable parts that’ll last a long time and that can be upgraded easily. She spent about $1300 on the whole thing, but later she can upgrade the graphics card if she wants to, or even replace the processor, motherboard, and memory while keeping the case and power supply. It’s a good foundation that’ll work well for her. I looked at the prices of pre-built PCs on Amazon, and while they save a few hundred dollars and have good specs on paper, the reviews often complain about glitches or shoddy workmanship or cut corners. I don’t think they would last nearly as long.

Another benefit of having a gaming PC is that there are so many inexpensive good games on Steam that she might never have any desire to buy a console!

So these are the parts we decided on, and why:

Continue reading


Jill and I each have a Nintendo 3DS. They’re great little systems for some quick gaming now and then. She likes the Mario games, I like puzzle games (especially Professor Layton and Ace Attorney), and we both still visit our Animal Crossing villages every now and then.

One of my favorite features is StreetPass: when I carry the 3DS around with me for a while, the number of steps I’ve taken and the other 3DS owners I’ve walked past will “power up” some minigames. It’ll give me the names and home states of the people I meet this way. Carrying one around a Disney park will usually get us a few connections, though not as many as it used to.

Best Buy stores have something called a “Nintendo Zone”, where bringing a 3DS into the store will “meet” other 3DS owners who’ve been there recently. (This used to also be offered at McDonalds and Starbucks as well as a few other places, I think.) But I’ve long been curious about how exactly this works, and how to set up a Nintendo Zone in our own house so we can make lots of these connections much more often.

Turns out it’s easy! In short, all it needs is an open access point named “attwifi”, with a MAC address that’s set to the same thing as being used by other access points. More detailed instructions at ““. It can be done with a laptop, or a wireless base station, or a Raspberry Pi, or a wide variety of other devices.

I set one up yesterday and I’ve already “met” people from Canada, France, Japan, Australia, and lots of other places.


I got another call from an Indian credit-card scammer today. I had some time, so I decided to play along.

Before he asked me anything at all, he gave me the usual spiel: he has reviewed my credit card history and sees that I pay at least the minimum every month, sometimes more, but that I still can’t make much progress towards lowering my balance. All lies, of course; he’s not really looking at anything. But I agreed with everything he said, and gave him a fake credit-card expiration date and a fake phone number when he asked for each. And then he instructed me to read off my credit card number to him.

Continue reading

Backing up

The best backup software I’ve found for Windows is Acronis True Image.

Unfortunately, the software really sucks.

Let me illustrate the problem. I told Acronis (on their Facebook wall) that I want a simple “set and forget” backup that doesn’t require a lot of configuration and maintenance, and I asked what the latest version of their product can do for me. Their reply:

An incremental backup stores changes to the data against the latest backup. So you need access to previous backups from the same chain to recover data from an incremental backup. To clean up an older backup chain (Full backup + dependent incremental backups) you’ll need to create a new full backup as a base for next incremental backups. Here you can find different clean up schemes available in the custom backup scheme:…/document…/ATI2017/index.html… For your scenario I’d suggest using an option “Keep size of the backup no more than [defined size]” – to limit maximum size of the backup. After creating a new backup version, the program checks whether the total backup size exceeds the specified value. If it’s true, the oldest backup version will be deleted.

This is the year 2016. I shouldn’t have to deal with “full” versus “incremental” backups. I shouldn’t have to worry about what will happen when my backup disk fills up. I should just be able to plug in a backup disk, hit a button, and have the backup software take care of the rest.

Continue reading

Home Security

Three times today my cell phone has rung. Each time it’s some company trying to sign me up for a home security system. Different phone number each time, different pre-recorded soundboard voice each time, but always the same spiel; it keeps prompting me with yes/no questions, then asks for a time of day when a “specialist” can call me back to arrange an installation. The most recent call, I said, “Right now. Don’t call me back, I’m available right now, put me through to someone.” The soundboard didn’t have a canned response to fit that, so the person pushing the buttons hung up on me.

A few minutes later I was called by a human being – maybe in response to that, maybe not. She went through the spiel, saying she’s from Alliance Home Security, every day so many people get robbed, yadda yadda yadda …

I cut her off. “Alliance? I signed up with you a month ago when you called! You were supposed to be here last Tuesday to install but I never heard from you!” This tripped her up; she asked for my name and address so she can look me up — “YOU called ME! Don’t you know who I am?” She apologized, said she’s only in the sales department… “It’s always the same every time you call, you never have my info and you always have to start over from scratch! Look, I’m done. Cancel my appointment, put me on your don’t call list.”

“Sir, you’re being unreasonable,” she said, sounding annoyed.

I sounded more annoyed. “A week it’s been, and no word! And then here you call and it’s like you don’t know me at all! Put me on your don’t call list.”

“We don’t have a don’t call list,” she replied sourly. I asked her what she does have, then. “We have a DO NOT CALL list.”

“Okay, then put me on that.” And I hung up on her.

Windows Technical Department

The phone rang this evening. It was a man with a thick Indian accent. Hello, I am calling you from Windows Technical Department. I am calling regarding your computer.

I suddenly had an idea. “Good evening. How may I help you?”

Sir, we are calling due to numerous error messages we are seeing from your computer.

“I see. I can help you. Would you please tell me what version of Windows you are running?”

I – uh – Windows 7.

“Which version? Home, Professional, or Enterprise?”

Uh. Sir, I am calling about your computer, not mine.

“But you say that you’re calling me because you’re seeing numerous error messages. I can help you with that. What version of Windows, please?”

Sir … sir … This is Windows Technical Department –

“And you’ve reached the Technical Support Department. My department supports your department.”

– I can show you the error messages –

“Which office are you calling from?”

… Delaware.



“I see. Would you please read me the exact wording of the error messages you’re seeing?”

Sir, there are many errors regarding the registry and –

“The exact wording, please. Along with any error numbers you see.”

… Sir, please allow me to reconnect you. The line went quiet for a moment, then another Indian voice came on, slower and deeper than the first. Sir. We are calling from Windows Technical Department because we are seeing numerous error messages from your computer.

“I understand. Please read me the exact wording of the error messages, along with any error numbers you see, so that I can look them up for you.”

He started to say something, hesitated, then spoke again. Sir. This is not a problem on OUR computer. This is a problem on YOUR computer.

“I need to know exactly what you see so that I can help you resolve the error messages. Please read to me the exact wording and error numbers of the errors you are seeing.”

There was silence for a few seconds, and then he hung up.



I’m driven by two basic needs:

  1. I need to be needed. I find my self-worth in what I’ve done for people lately. I have an ability to figure out how things work, and I have reams of tedious technical trivia stored in my head; so when I can put them together to help someone solve a problem and save them some frustration, that’s what makes me feel fulfilled.
  2. I hate to be needed. I don’t want to be the person who’s only called on when there’s a problem. I want to surround myself with peers and friends, not clients. I want to be respected for more than what I can do for people.

Continue reading


This is a eulogy for Larry, eight years too late.

Once upon a time, a very long time ago, I was an innocent young Ivy League graduate with an engineering degree and no idea what to do with it. I took the first job offer I got: with Oracle, the database company in California. They had no idea what to do with me. They threw me into a three-week crash course in databases, then let me pick what group I wanted to join. I chose Tech Support.

Tech Support had no idea what to do with me either. I was assigned to the desktop team. They gave me a PC running Windows 3.1 (a very long time ago, remember!), and told me I had to resolve a certain number of customer tickets each week.

The transition from college life to the Real World had been a difficult one. No longer were there letter grades to tell me well I was (or wasn’t) doing! I had no objective way to compare myself with other people and objectively see if I was screwing up! But suddenly this closed ticket count took that place in my life and became the measure thereof, and I worked hard to get that number high and keep it at the top of the weekly department report. There were no company incentives for this, of course; as long as the quotas were met, upper management didn’t care about individual performance. I cared, but nobody else did.

Especially Larry. Larry didn’t care at all.

Continue reading