Annual Sprinkler Turn On:
It's spring, and it's time to start watering the lawn. Time to execute that annual ritual which beckons the benevolent spirits of spring, and blesses my lawn with a healthy growing season. Last year I didn't wait long enough before I started watering the lawn, I was constantly worried that the cold weather was going to freeze out my sprinklers, causing all sorts of problems. Turning on the sprinklers is always a ritual filled with trepidation and hope. You worry that there might be damage, that you didn't blow out the sprinkler lines soon enough, that you didn't insulate properly, that the parts may not have weathered the season intact. You hope that everything will work perfectly when you turn on the sprinklers - That's seldom the case. It took a few years (we moved into this house (our first) back in 2005), but I think I've finally figured out how to turn on the sprinklers with shocking myself or damaging the system (The mechanical aptitude portion of my ASVAB test was the only portion where I scored below 99).
As usual (since my first few failed attempts (first two years I owned the house), I was armed with a series of photos and notes on how to turn the sprinklers on. This time, when I turned the water on (in the basement), there was a rather apparent problem. A leak! Damn. Thankfully it was right there, in the open. In the basement. Apparently I hadn't drained the pipes properly? and the water had frozen in the pipes (The basement usually stays warm enough to prevent freezing, but it sure was cold this winter). I had a burst pipe (the mains line after the sprinkler valve) and the ball valve on the turn on switch is also damaged (That's why there was water in the line!). Thankfully I know an 'actual' handyman who can handle this sort of repair. Yeah - Refer back to the mechanical aptitude score on my ASVAB test - I'm not inclined to conduct this sort of repair. Once that burst pipe and damaged valve were repaired, the 'turn-on' proceeded without further incident. There wasn't any apparent damage to the irrigation lines or the backflow preventer. After an initial inspection, Kim programmed the sprinkler zones, and a paid professional (that other 'handyman' that I employ) checked to make sure I hadn't missed something.
In addition to the sprinkler battle, I did some other spring, yard work. I cut the lawn - That took three hours; with bagging, trimming, and some thorough edging. I cleaned up the garage a bit. A bunch of leaves and debris from winter had accumulated over the last few months. I picked up all the rocks scattered by the snowblower. Finally, I dosed all those nasty weeds with a good coating of weed killer. I still have one big issue to clear up. There's a couple of bare spots that will need to be tended to. I'll probably have to replace the soil in those spots as nothing seems to grow there... Hooray for Spring!
Colorado's Crazy Weather - From the Frying pan to the Freezer:
It's snowing - A heavy snow, not a simple dusting of that fluffy white magical stuff. An onslaught of bruising, crushing, all consuming snow. A blizzard. So what? What's so strange about a snow storm in Colorado, in April? Yeah, April. It's a little late for a snow storm, but it isn't unheard of in these parts. It's just that I was under the impression that spring was here, that winter was kind of - done... After all, to get a snow storm our temperatures had to drop fifty degrees! What? Yeah, just last week we had temperatures in the 80s! We went from 80 degrees Fahrenheit to below freezing (that's 32F for those on the Metric system) in less than a weeks time. Yeah - We live in Colorado. Just another example of that weird weather we sometimes encounter in our Colorado community. What kind of crazy weather do you encounter in your corner of the planet?
Southeast Aurora Neighborhood Watch / Community Award:
On the 10th of Apr, 2014, Kim and I attended the 32nd Annual Volunteer Banquet for the City of Aurora Police Department. The dinner was held (at the Summit Conference and Events Center) in honor of the volunteers who serve the city of Aurora, Colorado by volunteering with the Aurora Police Department or Neighborhood Watch. Speakers included Mayor Steve Hogan and Chief of Police Dan Oates. This year I was nominated by the Area 26 PAR (Police Area Representative) Officer. I've been a volunteer with the area Neighborhood Watch since 2007. During that time I've served as a Block Captain for Tollgate Crossing, I routinely fill in as the Head Area Coordinator for all of Area 26, I am the webmaster for the Southeast Aurora Neighborhood Watch website, I've created and manage more than a dozen emailing lists in order to coordinate and inform residents from 10 different communities in South East Aurora. I've organized membership drives, created banners, announcements, newsletters and helped organize and run annual Neighborhood Watch events. I've contributed thousands of hours of my time to keeping our NW alive, vibrant and growing - Informing, protecting and connecting residents of South East Aurora with the Aurora Police Department and other city services designed to server and protect residents.
The Aurora Police Department recognized the dedication and service of all the wonderful volunteers at this annual volunteer banquet. The Neighborhood Watch Program is supported by hundreds of citizens serving as area and block representatives working throughout the community. The volunteers coordinate activities in their area, arrange meetings, picnics, and other social gatherings, and schedule crime prevention and safety training for the residents in their neighborhoods. Citizens are becoming involved in a variety of community projects and are willing to give of themselves to make Aurora a safer place to live. I was one of seventeen NW volunteers honored that evening.
If you are a resident of Southeast Aurora, you might want to check out our Southeast Aurora Neighborhood Watch website (Serving the following communities: Tollgate Crossing, Sorrel Ranch, Wheatlands, Beacon Point, Southshore, Tallyn’s Reach, Saddle Rock - North, Serenity Ridge, Black Stone and Heritage Eagle Bend). If you're concerned about the safety and security of your community, you might want to join our group, or subscribe to one of our mailing lists to receive periodic alerts, updates and information.
the HeartBleed SSL security vulnerability:
The heartbleed vulnerability can be exploited from the server or client side of a TLS transaction. The vulnerability is a buffer over-read type, which can result in more data being read than should be (up to 64kb worth of data). This could result in the disclosure of login credentials, passwords, credit card numbers, message content, etc, during a secure transaction. An active exploit would allow attackers to listen in on communications, steal protected data directly from the servers or users, and then impersonate trusted services or users. It's bad! Thankfully, the vulnerability has been identified and a fix has been released. Unfortunately, it will take some time for all websites to be updated with the fix, and there may have been exploits available prior to the fix. Web sites that are vulnerable should NOT be used for any type of secure transactions. i.e. Don't log in, don't do business, don't provide them any information.
Who's affected? Well, not every secure website uses the OpenSSL implementation for secure transactions, but it is quite popular, due to the fact that it's free and readily available. Estimates on the number of affected secure web servers ranges from 15 - 20% world-wide. It is the most popular open source implementation of TLS. If you visit, have visited or do business with a website that uses OpenSSL, you should probably change your password now, and don't do any business with that site until you're sure that they've installed the updated OpenSSL components. Thankfully the vulnerability isn't in the TLS protocol itself, so only the OpenSSL implementation is actually vulnerable (there are other unaffected implementations such as GnuTLS, Mozilla's Network Security Services, and Microsoft's TLS stack).
How do you know which websites are unpatched? Thankfully, several websites exist which can be used to 'check' for the presence of the vulnerability. If you're planning to do commerce or use an untrusted/unknown connection, do yourself a favor and check the site before you offer any information. A google search for 'heartbleed checker' should return a list of sites that will check for the vulnerability. Don't assume that a site will patch or has patched to correct for this vulnerability. Odds are most websites, companies simply won't or haven't gotten around to it. Many will, but the vast majority of sites are procrastinators - just like me and you. They'll ignore the problem, put off the patch, think it's too complicated to correct (there are three essential steps to fully patch against the vulnerability, and many websites will only implement the first/easiest), etc. Do yourself a favor, always check before you commit your data to an unchecked site. Note: If you're using a Chrome or Firefox browser, you can download a 'Heartbleed' checker extension.
Ubuntu One file services shutting down:
Ubuntu One is a cloud based storage provider. With the basic/free account you get a free 5gb account with a desktop download, and I discovered another benefit to this free offer. They also provide a digital music locker for people on the go. If you purchase music from their music store partner - 7digital.com, you get a free digital music locker for free. Any music you purchase through the 7digital store is instantly and always available through their cloud based player. So I gave it a spin. The stores prices are on par with iTunes so they don't really stand out in that department. Their selection isn't as good/large as iTunes or eMusic, and they can't touch the eMusic prices, so I doubt I'll be heading back anytime soon.
In November of 2013, 7digital was merged with UBC media as part of a 'reverse takeover'. This merger may be part of the reason why Ubuntu One file services was shut down. The merger was completed in May of 2014. On the 2nd of April, 2014, Canonical (owners of the Ubunto One brand) announced that they would be shutting down the Ubunto One file services (I received an email on the 9th of April, 2014).
Out to Eat in Greenwood Village:
On this particular outing we tried something new. Portabello & Tomato flatbread appetizers - Yummy! For the main dish, Kim and I had differing opinions. Sunday around 11 happens to be 'Brunch' time at the Great Northern - Kim opted for a breakfast dish; She had French Toast & Hash brows, while I opted for the Walleye Fish & Chips. Yes - Walleye. A beer battered fillet to be precise. It's been quite some time since I've had walleye, so this offering came as a bit of a surprise - Unless you consider the restaurant's theme. The Great Northern has a cuisine accustomed to foods found along our country's northern tier, especially those places in/along the great lakes - Thus the Cheese Curds and Walleye! The fish was served with American 'chips' - aka 'French Fries'. The lemon caper tarter sauce was an excellent accompaniment. I washed down this excellent lunch with a couple of Vodka Bloody Mary's... Then I took a nap! Just kidding.
The menu, atmosphere, service and experience make the Great Norther Tavern one of our favorite restaurants. I'm sure we'll be back.</rave>
phpbb update Scam:
After solving that problem, I quickly became the recipient of some interesting email. Every time the php software was due for an update, I would receive an email - An unsolicited business email. Guess what that is boys and girls? That's right it's spam. I don't know the company, I don't have a business relationship with the company, they're offering services unsolicited, and in this case, they crafted their email to make it look like they are the owners/authors of the phpBB brand. Their email is designed in such a way that one might think it's an 'official' update notification. They want me to 'Pay' for an update to the phpBB software; even though the update is free/offered for free through an arrangement with my Hosting Provider. My hosting provider pays a licensing fee for the 'Softaculous' package (a bundle of software applications that I can run on my websites), and phpBB receives a share of that licensing fee. The creators of phpBB are already getting paid for the update, but this spammer seems to think that I should pay him/her in order to update my phpBB installation.
I reported this spam to Google and the owners of the phpBB trademark. I assume that I'll continue to receive this sort of spam, but I'm not about to fall for it, and neither should you. If you're running a phpBB powered bulletin board, don't fall for such an obvious scam.
If you ever need any help figuring out a problem involving unsolicited email, or help hunting down a spammer, don't hesitate to ask for my help. I'm willing and eager to help. Just drop me an email. I'd put the email address here, but this email message is also posted online, where spammers could scrape the email off the web page. Damn those spammers!
A new Roku:
Just recently (Mar of 2014) I bought a new Roku. The new Roku 2 (model 2720) replaces the Roku HD XR in the living room (this is my 3rd Roku). This new Roku has several outstanding features: Two different types of video output - Composite S-Video and HDMI (it's compatible with just about every TV made); Video resolution - 480i/p, 720/1080p (standard definition and high definition); Audio outputs - Standard analog audio out via composite cables plus digital audio via HDMI and private audio output available via the wireless remote (with included headphones); Network connections - No ethernet connection, but dual-band wireless connectivity via 802.11a/b/g/n; Remote control - via wi-fi (using an application for iPhone or Android phones) or direct IR via the included remote (remote has dedicated buttons for Netflix, Amazon, M-Go and BlockBuster); CPU & Memory - 600MHz, 512MB+256MB for channel storage.
The Roku player (as of Mar, 2014) has over 1,000 channels, and that list is growing daily. This list doesn't include the private and experimental channels. The Roku platform has a strong developer community, which is constantly improving, experimenting and pushing the platform to make it the ultimate set-top device. I make extensive use of the Netflix and Amazon instant video channels - Since I'm a subscriber to both, this is an excellent way to bring a huge selection of on demand videos into my living room. Browsing titles in your Netflix instant queue is easy to do with the included remote. As a matter of fact, Roku recently introduced a search function that searches across multiple channels in order to find that Season 3 episode of Star Trek the Next Generation.
Watching movies on your Roku is a snap. A simple click of the remote starts the download, and you're watching the movie in seconds. It only downloads a small portion of the movie at first - Just enough to get you going. As you watch the movie it downloads and dumps successive portions of the movie, making for a smooth viewing experience with no long wait times. The playback produces excellent quality (given the fact that I have a high-speed Comcast connection (standard residential internet option in the Aurora, Colorado area)). I haven't experienced any lag, the audio is perfectly synced, and the quality is awesome (especially the HD) for a streaming video connection. As a matter of fact, it's better quality playback than I get with the Comcast pay-per-view option - Awesome! The Roku isn't just a platform for IP TV. You can also listen to music, podcasts, check the weather and play games.
April's Audio Acquisitions:
Artists want you to Hear their music - If you like it, you'll buy it, or maybe you'll buy some concert tickets. The major labels of the music industry want you to pay for their product. - letting you hear it for free is contrary to their business model. Well, guess what? I won't buy the music if I can't listen to it first, and no one listens to the radio anymore (I don't because of all the advertising, interruptions, lack of new music and lack of information - you can never figure out who/what is being played) The major labels are killing themselves with their restrictive distribution and dissemination policies. If you like new music, you can do a web search to find your favorite artists web site, a new music web site, or an archive of free music. Free music is available - Legally! Don't believe the propaganda of the major labels - Not all free music is illegal. You can legally download and listen to all sorts of music for free (Have you heard of Pandora, Audiolizer, Presto, Jango or GrooveShark?). I download (purchase) most of my music from a couple of commercial sources (eMusic and iTunes), but I occasionally download tracks (legally) from various websites, newsgroups and blogs in order to satisfy my craving for music.
Here's a listing of some of the music I legally downloaded - and paid for!
These are some of the items I added to my music collection during this month. Since revamping my music collection back in September of 2005, I've been slowly adding, revising and updating the collection. If you have a comment, question or correction regarding my music collection, please don't hesitate to send me an email. Please keep in mind that my collection isn't for sale, and I'm not interested in giving you any copyrighted materials. I'd rather not go to jail for music piracy. :-)