A New Chapter

My in-laws left yesterday and returned to their home in China.  They have lived with us for over two years.  Before they arrived in 2002, I mentioned to my wife that it was the start of a new chapter in our lives.  Now the page has turned and yet another new chapter has started for us.  They lived with us since our son was born–they have always been a part of his life.  Now as we prepare to head to Korea, we are again a family of three.  Life has been very hectic for us with our impending move, but I can already tell that life feels a bit more settled now that we’re together as a smaller family.  My in-laws were a big help to us.  They were always around to help take care of our son, and for that I am very grateful.  I know that my son already misses them very much because he’s old enough to be aware of their move, but he has been very well behaved the past couple of days.  I hope it continues until we finally arrive in Seoul.  Living together as an extended family has brought blessing, tension, happiness, and frustration–all the human emotions that rise up with family members living together.  I will look back at the last two years fondly and wax nostalgic, but at present I am happy that a new chapter has started.  For me this is the start of our transition to Korea.  We have been in limbo here in the Washington, D.C. area since we arrived in early 2004, and now within 2 months we will be in Korea, our new home for years.  Korea is yet another chapter to be experienced, and this is page one.

The death toll from the tsunamis in southeast Asia and eastern Africa has risen to 77,000+.  What a tragedy.  I am happy that the U.S. and other nations have pledged millions of dollars and logistical aid to combat the ensuing humanitarian crisis.  The tragedy seems so distant to many of us, but it has touched us nevertheless.  Out of this tragedy comes the opportunity for the world to come together to show support just as it did when the Twin Towers were attacked in 2001.  I’m planning to contact World Vision to see what I can do.

I downloaded and tried the new Mozilla Firefox browser.  It’s the new open source browser that is competing with Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.  Over 12 million copies have been downloaded.  Most people download it because they either don’t like IE or are concerned about security issues with Microsoft’s browser.  Hackers and virus makers have designed nasties around the IE browser because over 90% of Internet users use IE to access the Web (mass audience).  I had to check it out for myself.  I have tested the Firefox browser, and so far I have not been very impressed.  If it will boost my PC’s security I will use it, but I may have to sacrifice some speed and functionality.  Pages appear to load more slowly in Firefox, and you have to manually load some add-ins such as Flash that boost the Web’s functionality.  Still, I will continue to test Firefox and use it for the time being.  I was happy to see that Google is Firefox’ default search engine.  Google appears on the Firefox home page and as a built-in browser toolbar.  If Firefox takes off in 2005, then the Firefox-Google alliance bodes well for Google.  Google impresses more every day.

Will the library become obsolete?

Google (of which I own shares) announced today that it will make available online the book collections of five major universities and library systems.  The institutions are Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Michigan, Oxford University, and the New York Public Library system.  All I can say is, “Wow!”  If they can pull it off that would be a major coup for the upstart technology company.  In recent months following Google’s IPO it has faced a number of challenges from its two largest competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft (MSN).  It has met these challenges well so far.  When MSN announced its new beta search engine, Google announced that it had doubled the number of indexed, searchable web pages on Google.com–twice as many as are available on MSN.  It was the first to release a new Desktop Search Tool ahead of Yahoo and MSN, both of which recently release versions of their own.  Google is taking on Yahoo and Hotmail/MSN head on by offering Gmail, a free E-mail service.  When Google announced it was giving away free 1GB E-mail accounts, both Yahoo and MSN upped storage capacity for all users.  Google is the only one of the three to allow free POP access to E-mail through clients such as Outlook.  Accoona.com is a new Google copycat search engine backed by President Clinton, among others.  It will be the exclusive provider of China Daily content online.  Today’s announcement is akin to Google responding with, “So what?”

Anyway, I digress.  Google’s recent announcement of Google Scholar and the new library initiative may foreshadow its rise to rareified air.  If it can successfully make these collections available online, Google will no doubt be the elite search tool for the next decade.  It will probably not render physical libraries obsolete, but it may do to library usage what E-mail did to snail mail–decrease the volume of usage.  I hope this initiative is successful.  It will substantially increase the value of the World Wide Web by having offline and out-of-print resources available online.  This could be the start of a new paradigm shift.  For years people have wonder when, if ever, books in print would be replaced by digital e-books.  This could provide an inkling of that potential future.

Today when I came home I again saw a murder of crows hovering around our building.  It was a scene out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  The sky was dim, well past sunset.  The trees are skeletal, and the landscape was quite murky.  The crows flew about so that they were nearly indistinguishable from bats.  Tonight would have been a perfect setting for Halloween.

I also put together an English-Korean song put to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas.”  Once I’m finished I’ll post it here.

Computer trouble

Have you ever had problems with your computer?  I’m sure you have had some at some point.  Trouble with viruses?  The possibility of picking of a virus, worm, or spybot has increased exponentially over the past few years.  My computer is now having trouble again.  It started last week when I was moving some photo files.  My computer has been sluggish for quiet some time, but now Windows itself appears to have a problem.  I can’t open Windows Explorer or any of the Windows management programs.  It could be a virus, but more likely Windows is now corrupted.  My solution is to rebuilding my computer.  I’ve decided that my 30GB hard drive is no longer big enough, and I’m going to install a new 160GB master hard drive.  I need as much space as I can get for video editing.  Each DVD-quality 30-minute video file can run as much as 25-30GB.  If I upgrade the hard drive, reinstall Windows, add more RAM (1GB+) and buy a more powerful power supply that should do the trick (I hope).  I never know, though.  My computer has never run right.  I’m tempted to go buy a Dell or another off-the-shelf computer, but I’m already invested in this home-built unit.  Maybe in 5 years I’ll order a Dell.

The problem with rebuilding the hard drive and reinstalling Windows is that you have to reinstall every program you have on your computer.  I have many programs installed.  I plan to catalog each one, including installation instructions, before rebuilding.  That way I know I didn’t miss anything crucial.  I also invested in a backup unit from Maxtor (the OneTouch II) to do seamless backups.  That way I won’t lose any files.

I also want to make sure that I am not hacked and do not pick up any viruses or other nasties.  That’s why I recommend the following security precautions at home:

  1. If you run Windows XP, make sure you have installed Microsoft‘s service pack 2 (SP2) for Windows XP.  It includes many important new security management features.  If your computer automatically runs Microsoft updates then it should have already been installed on your computer.
  2. Invest in a good anti-virus program such as Norton or McAfee.  Set these to auto-update or do an update at least once a week.
  3. Scan your hard drive for viruses and worms once a week.  Most anti-virus programs offer this feature.
  4. Use strong passwords when logging in.  The easiest way to hack a computer is a weak or non-existent password.
  5. Invest in an anti-spyware program.  Ad-Aware by Lavasoft is a great free tool for eliminating spyware.
  6. Secure your home network.  If you have a home network and use Linksys or another router, be sure to set up a strong WEP key to secure your network from outside access.  Consult the router manufacturer’s instructions on setting up a security home network.
  7. Use a strong firewall program.  Zone Alarm is a great free firewall program.  Unfortunately, at the time Microsoft released SP2 it appeared to conflict with Zone Alarm because both provide firewall features.  Zone Alarm is much stronger.
  8. Make sure that your E-mail program is able to scan and isolate attachments before they execute.  For example, Yahoo.com scans attachments before download, and Outlook will isolate suspected files.  If you receive an attachment from an unknown person, it’s safest not to open the E-mail.  If an E-mail asks for personal information such as a credit card number do not click through to the web site and enter it.
  9. Power down your computer frequently if you have a broadband connection.  Shutting off your computer is a good defense against receiving unwanted viruses or hackers.
  10. Secure personal information.  Invest in a vault program such as Cryptainer with strong encryption will better secure your personal information.

It’s no guarantee that you’ll be problem-free, but if you do these steps your computer(s) will be much more secure against hackers and viruses.