Steve Olson on Wal-mart and Target

I read a post at Steve Olson’s blog about differences between Target and Wal-mart. I would love to have left a comment, but there are already 232 as of the start of this posting, and I’m sure Steve has better things to do than read an email from me, so I’ll just post a quick thought here.

First, I’ll start by saying that this is only my opinion, nothing more, nothing less, and it has only as much weight and authority as you the reader are willing to give it. I do agree with Steve that I prefer Target over Wal-mart. There are times when a trip to Wal-mart is warranted, and my wife and I recently joined Sam’s Club rather than renew our BJ’s membership, but given the choice I always prefer Target.

My mother in law works for K-mart as an HR manager, and will tell prospective employees that she is looking for serious workers (my paraphrase, not her exact words). She tells them that if they’re not willing to work then they should apply at Wal-mart.

Steve compares the aisles in the two stores. Wow, he makes a great point there. One thing I hate about Wal-mart is that every time I need anything in an aisle, there is always a person standing right in the middle of the aisle in front of exactly what I need (like light bulbs) and has no intention of moving before I have to go home and put my kids to bed. Target, on the other hand, does have very long and wide aisles, wide enough for two shopping carts to fit in. I have enough room to keep my kids amused by racing the shopping card around while my wife takes too long to shop. I wouldn’t try that at Wal-mart.

But yes, some trips to Wal-mart are required. I guess it’s just the culture. Wal-mart has a model of the lowest cost at any price. Target seems to have a little more class.

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Having The Right Tool

I’ve been formulating this blog post for a while. I’ve always hated yard work. I didn’t know why. I always thought that I just haven’t been gifted with whatever part of the brain it takes to do yard work. Sure, I can go outside and work really hard, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it. As the ThinkTQ materials I’ve mentioned previously often say, don’t confuse effort with results.

When my wife and I bought our house, for whatever reason I bought an electric lawnmower. I had one growing up and I hated it, but I figured there must have been something to it so I bought my own. I hated it just as much as I did the one my dad made me use in middle and high school. A few years ago, we bought my father-in-law a new lawnmower, so I took his old one to a friend to fix up. It was a gas mower, but I still didn’t like using it. My lawn killed it many times. It was a 4.5 horse power Briggs & Straton. One day last summer, I was cutting the grass on a very hot afternoon and the mower finally died. I don’t know how old it was when I got it, but now it’s dead. I tried to use the electric mower, but the handle is set too low and one of the nuts was loose so the handle kept slipping.

I finally told my wife that I had to get a new lawn mower. Just at that time, her mom stopped by and needed me to run an errand with her. She said we’d stop by Sears while we were out and look for a mower. She works for K-mart and gets a discount.

I ended up buying a 6.5 horse power model with the big field wheels. You know what? It worked great. My law was cut so much faster because I finally had a mower with a powerful enough engine to handle my thick grass (which gets thicker through my procrastination for not wanting to deal with it). The wheels can take the soft ground and uneven terrain of my back yard, and best yet I don’t have to mess with my extension cords.

This brings me to a vital point. I can’t stress the importance of having the right tool for the job. Looking back, I have always been more worried about keeping the price down than getting a tool that will handle my needs. This is often a horrible approach! I have a quarter acre lot with lots of rocks and tree stumps, so I obviously need different equipment than somebody with a town house would.

Buy your equipment based on your actual needs. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit more to get what you need. I understand that there are times when your resources are very limited and you just have to work with what you can get. I’ve been there many times myself. But if you have the resources, get what you need. You’ll spend even more money and time when you have underpowered tools. You wouldn’t run a multimedia server on a Pentium II laptop, or a G3 iMac, and I shouldn’t have been cutting my grass with an electric mower.

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What is the Point to 64-bit Processors?

Last year, I found out I was getting a new laptop for Christmas. Since the beans had been spilled, my wife took my input into what would be the best laptop to get for me. I took into account portability, power, and price, and came up with the Compaq Presario v2414. One of the reasons I wanted this particular model was for the AMD Turion 64-bit processor. I figured that sooner or later, there would be a move to 64-bit software and by having the hardware to run 64-bit, I might be able to make that laptop useful for a longer period of time.

I can’t say that to date I have done a lot of research into 64-bit computing. I read somewhere that you can process video and work with graphics better. The first 64-bit offering I tried was SuSE Linux 10.1. I put in the CD and installed onto another partition, but some files didn’t install correctly, I got a lot of error warnings, and when the OS booted for the first time, I saw that a high enough run level could not be achieved to run the GUI. I wasn’t about to spend the time using Linux entirely from a command line, so I removed the installation and restored my Windows XP Boot Manager.

One day I got the idea to try the Windows XP Pro 64-bit trial edition. I downloaded and burned the DVD and installed. I had a heck of a time finding a graphics driver, and my widescreen laptop looked funny in 1024×768 resolution. Once I got the graphics working right, I had to find a wireless driver. Fortunately, Windows Update found this for me automatically. I soon learned that sound would not be working on this installation.

Shortly after this, Windows Vista RC1 was released, so I downloaded the 64-bit install CD and installed Vista over XP Pro. I was able to get a sound driver working, but basically I installed every 64 bit sound driver I could find and kept installing them until something took. Windows Vista has a driver signing protection, and being experimental you are not going to find a signed audio driver for a 64-bit experimental OS, so you have to manually disable the driver signing protection at EVERY STARTUP but going into F8 prior to boot up.

By this weekend, I was ready to scrap Vista, but after talking to a friend I realized that I could go back to the 32-bit Vista, which I did.

It’s nice to have working audio. I’m starting to see 64-bit processors as the modern day USB. USB started showing up on every device one day, most of us didn’t know what to do with it, there were no devices for it, and then we turned around and found it to be in widespread use but we were stuck with parallel printers and scanners that we bought because we didn’t understand the point to USB.

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Linux and Mac

Last week, I heard that Ubuntu Linux 6.10 was out. I was struggling with Max OS X 10.2 (Jaguar) on my iBook. I can’t upgrade iTunes without 10.3, and I was having trouble doing a few other things. I figured if I was going to be stuck with an operating system with somewhat limited capabilities compared to what I’m used to on Windows, I would just put Linux on this iBook. At least Linux is updated for free, compared to Apple which releases a new operating system every 20 minutes ans expects you to pay for them. I burned a Live CD of Kubuntu and fired it up. I found a wireless helper which saw my Airport card but could not handle the encryption on my router. Wireless, for now has been my deal-breaker when it comes to Linux.

I installed Kubuntu and found a beautiful, stable, and easy to use interface. The software catalog is very comprehensive and easy to use, and I quickly found updates to KDE that I have used in the past. I downloaded the KDE Network Manager, which didn’t see my Airport card at all. I did a search on Google, only to find that it’s hard to set up Airport Extreme on Linux. I don’t have Airport Extreme, but apparently nobody else has tried to set up a regular Airport card on Linux.

As much as I loved the interface, reliability, and stability of Kubuntu, I went back to Mac OS X. I broke down and ordered Tiger (10.4) from Ebay, which will hopefully arrive today. I’ll wait until the next round of Linux releases come out.

Linux distributors are finally starting to understand that if they hope to attract Mac and Windows users, they have to offer us an attractive interface that is also somewhat easy to use. Not everybody wants to be a Unix programmer hobbyist. People like me are easily smart enough to figure it out, but we’d rather be using our computers than hacking .conf files. I definitely don’t mind some configuration work and troubleshooting, and I even enjoy it, but I do think that my operating system should be able to play a DVD out of the box, and it should be able to see my wireless chipset and connect to my router with 128 bit hexadecimal encryption. As exciting as it is to take part in a revolutionary movement against proprietary software, we still want our software to work, and the market will move in the direction of the best solution to our problems.

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My iBook

I have had a lot going on lately, and I really haven’t posted to my blog. I could probably have put up hundreds of small posts, but they all got lost in the shuffle. I’ll concentrate this post on my iBook and next time Linux.

The iMac I have has been little more than a toy to me. With 32 megs of RAM and Mac OS 9.2.2, it didn’t do very much. I was looking for a way to get my hands on Mac OSX to gain some experience on the platform. My wife found an ad on Craig’s List giving away a few laptops and computers. By the time I got her email the next morning and checked the ad out, the poster had already left notice that all of the computers were claimed. I decided to see what else I could find, and I came across an Apple iBook for $100. The ad said that the power cord had shorted out and the owner took the hard drive out and was selling the computer for parts. I figured that for $100, it was worth the challenge. I was sure that I could recoup the $100 in parts anyway if the laptop didn’t work. I emailed the poster to ask if he still had the factory disks, and he said yes. I took my 1 year old, Caleb, with me to pick it up.

My wife was not happy at all with me for buying this iBook, but as far as I’m concerned, I did get a good deal. I had a 40 Gig laptop hard drive that needed to be used. It’s home was in a Toshiba Pentium II/233Mhz notebook that has been retired. I found a power cord for $30 on Ebay, so once the cord arrived, I already had the iBook put together. The previous owner gave me all of the software that came with the iBook. OK, just kidding, it’s a Mac, so there is little software for it, but there sure were a lot of disks! The iBook came from the factory with Max OSX 10.1, and the owner upgraded to Jaguar, 10.2. While I was waiting for the power cord to arrive, I stuck an extra 64 Megs in the iMac and installed Jaguar. I’m pleasantly surprised at the performance that the iMac is giving me.

The iBook was a lot of fun to put together. For a company founded by computer hobbyists, Apple Computer sure doesn’t like hobbyists messing with their computers. Most of the screws are very tiny, and I didn’t have a Phillips screwdriver small enough to drive them in. I finally settled for snapping the case together and hoping for the best, which so far has been good enough.

Once the power cord arrived, I plugged it in, hit the power button, and heard that familiar Mac noise. I was happy. Next came the fun of trying to install software. The iBook factory install CDs don’t have any disk tools, and I was dealing with a 40 Gig NTFS drive. The Jaguar upgrade CD doesn’t have drive tools either, but the 10.1 install CD does. I found from the iMac that 10.1 is about as useless as Mac OS9, but with a more appeasing interface. Jaguar is slightly more useful, but I really need Panther. The problem is that I’m having trouble talking my wife into the money for Panther or even Tiger, and my friends who have them can’t remember to produce them for me. I think that using a Mac might destroy your memory.

One thing I can’t say I like about Apple is how quickly their software goes out of date. Since 2001, there have been 4 releases of Mac OSX (I believe). The Windows XP CD that I bought in January 2002 is still as good today as it was when I bought it. I hear a lot of criticism from Mac forums about how "Microsoft hasn’t released a new operation system in 5 years". Well, guess  what? Windows users haven’t had to pay for a new operating system in 5 years either. Here I am with a notebook computer originally purchased in 2002, with an upgraded operating system that is 2 releases behind the current.

I almost forgot the hardware specs. This iBook is a G3, 600Mhz with 256 Megs of RAM. I will say I’m impressed. Apple does design hardware to last for a while, and this computer is more usable than the Pentium III/800Mhz with 128 megs RAM that I have.

I did break down and order Tiger, which will hopefully arrive today.

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