Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Hate the Dept of Revenue

So yesterday, after picking up 8 computers to repair, I come home and see a letter from the Dept. of Revenue. It's in the envelope they use to mail out the montly sales tax forms I fill out if I choose not to e-file. The print in the "To:" field looked a little different, so I opened it up (usually I just dump them in the filing cabinet and keep my e-file receipts).

Inside was a letter stating I had defaulted on the payment arrangements I had set up in October.

Most of the people reading this blog are likely aware that my battles with the state are either on a legendary platform or are really close. My opinion of how the Dept. of Revenue's Division of Collections is run is pretty much on par with my three-year-old niece's ability to manage her own finances.

I'm rather baffled by this letter. When I set the payment arrangement up in October, I gave them $400 towards the balance. They set me up on automatic drafts of $140/month afterwards for 18 months. It's been my intention to get that paid off well before 18 months approach (and right now, I'll likely be able to pay them off by the end of next month).

A couple weeks after the initial $400 payment, I called in a $150 payment thinking it was going to count as November's payment. A few days after that, the automatic draft of $140 comes out. That wasn't a big deal really, I just wanted to make sure I was on the same page as the DoC. It wasn't a complicated set up. I had simply requested that I have the ability to pay sooner or delay a payment by a couple days depending on when I got paid from my customers.

(You small business owners out there know you're pretty much at your customer's mercy when you're dealing in service...)

Apparently you can't do that and that wasn't told to me. Again, no biggie really, I just needed to make sure I had $140 in the account when the due date was approaching.

So it's Jan 25th and I'm staring at this letter. I go back to look at my bank statements just to make sure I actually had the payments drafted out of my account.

Statement looked like this:

Oct 22nd: $400
Nov 20th: $150
Nov 25th: $140
Dec 24th: $140
Jan 25th: $140

Yep, verified. Obviously there's some mistake. If it's one thing I've learned in dealing with the state it's that there's always "some mistake". I pretty much have to pay more attention to them than I do to my three-year-old niece to make sure they're doing the right thing.

(Can you guys tell just how fond I am of the State yet?)

That mistake means "Call the DoC" is added to my list of shit to do.

So I call. As luck would have it, a lady I chewed out about a year ago happens to answer the phone and unfortunately...

...she remembers me. :)

Lady: Well hello Mr. Brook, what did we screw up today?

\grindsteeth
Q: Automatic payments.

Lady: How so?

Q: /explains

Lady: Let me put you on hold while I look into it.

\listenstosilence.

(The DoC has no hold music...probably explains why they get yelled at a lot.)

Lady: I don't show any records of you being put on a pay agreement for this account.

Q: I have a letter in my hand with the case number for that account stating I'm in default of a pay agreement. I have bank records showing the state drafting my account 3 times automatically for $140.

Lady: Let me transfer you to the lady you initially spoke to about the pay agreement since I can tell you're about to chew me out again.

Q: I only chewed you out last time because you were a complete bitch about the situation. You assumed the worst about me without even bothering to listen to actual facts. As long as you listen and don't assume anything, you and I will get along just fine, but if you're still mad about it, then yeah, go ahead and transfer me. Just make note of the fact that no progress was made on this account until someone actually bothered to do some research and speak to me like I was a human being.

Lady: I find it hard to believe that's the only reason progress was made.

Q: Facts don't lie. I wrestled around with you guys for 3 years trying to make good on this, but you guys kept losing paperwork, filing it in the wrong places or flat out telling me that I was lying. It wasn't until October that the other lady bothered to look. I don't want to argue these points with you. I'm far too tired.

Lady: I'll transfer you now.

Q: Thanks.

\moresilence...

Old Lady: Hello Mr. Brook?

Q: Hello ma'am.

Old Lady: What seems to be the problem today?

Q: Apparently you guys set up an automatic payment that's actually working on my end in regards to taking money out of my account, but failing on your end in terms of applying it where it needs to go.

Old Lady: Oh dear, sounds like they assigned the payment to the wrong case.

Q: How does that happen...

Old Lady: Well I'm old and I probably hit the wrong number somewhere.

See, I like this lady. No bullshit from her. No accusations. The entire time I've dealt with her, she's done nothing but treat me professionally. I get that there are douchebags out there that will do everything they can to avoid paying debts off and most debt collectors just simply assume everyone they speak to falls into this category.

That's not to say she doesn't make her own assumptions quietly, but therein lies the solution.

It's quiet. There's no verbalization of it that causes tempers to flare up and no progress to be made.

Seriously, when I get this debt paid off, I'm sending her some flowers.

(And probably sending the other lady a box full of my very own taco-bell-covered-in-wasabi-downed-with-5-hour-energy feces.)

Old Lady: I'll need to read up on what's happening and call you back. No need to worry about any actions being taken since you've called in. We'll get it straightened out.

Q: Thanks.

Old Lady: By the way, I remember the last time you spoke to the lady that transferred you to me. She needs to be taken to the woodshed from time to time. Kids these days.

Q: I'm still convinced you're about to be fired...but I appreciate the support and cooperation.

Old Lady: We'll call you back soon.

The "fired" comment is in relation to my first conversation with said Old Lady. When I initially spoke to her about a payment arrangement, I shit you not, her response after looking at my account was:

"Oh dear, it looks like we've given you the runaround doesn't it?"

There aren't many times I'm almost completely stunned into silence, but that was one of them. After a few seconds, the only thing I could really say was:

"Are you about to be fired or something?"

I spent the next month dealing only with her, but this time the extension I dialed rolled to mega-bitch.

Anyway...back to limbo I go.

Surely they can't fuck this up completely...

Thursday, January 21, 2010

XBox 360 Repair: {success}

While I won't say this is completely fixed, I will say it's fixed enough for me to watch movies and Netflix on it in glorious 1080p (if movie is formatted that way). I'll declare this completely fixed once I go pick up my first XBox360 title.

This guide will show how I fixed this.

In the blog post yesterday, I went over how I acquired said 360. Once I acquired it, I started doing some research on how to fix it. There are a ton of kits and D.I.Y. guides out there to draw information from, so I don't expect this guide to be the authoritative method for home 360 repair.

Obviously I need to preface this by stating:

If your 360 is under warranty with Microsoft, stop reading and send it in. If you're unsure of it's status, register it at http://support.xbox.com and find out there. The red ring of death is a very common issue in earlier models of the 360. My understanding is that within the past 1-1.5 years, they've fixed the primary issue that causes the machines to red ring (overheating). I've never owned or disassembled a 360 before, but I think I can sum up how most people feel about the RRoD by saying:



Also keep in mind that there are a few different patterns to the red ring. This guide addresses the 3/4 red ring of death.

Now that that's out of the way, here's what I did:

Part 1: What you'll need.

This is the easy part. Most of this stuff is probably already around your house. If it isn't, well this project probably got a little more expensive than what you expected.

The Tools

- Jeweler's Screwdriver (Flat): This is for poking things.
- Torque 6 Screwdriver: This is to remove the screws on the XBox.
- 1/4" Socket Wrench or a Pair of Pliers: This is to remove the standoffs on the heatsinks. Take your pick here, both are equally a pain in the ass to use.
- A Drill with a 3/16" drill bit: Needs to be capable of chewing up a little metal.
- Normal Philips or Flat Screwdriver: Depends on which flavor of panhead screws you choose.

The Oddities

- 4x 3/16" x 1/2" Panhead screws: These will be for the GPU heatsink (the flat one). These are a.k.a. 5MMx15MM for you metric system aficionados out there.
- 4x 3/16" x 1" Panhead screws: These will be for the CPU heatsink (the tall one). Again, for you metric system tools out there, that would be 5MMx20MM.
- 24x 3/16" Washers for the above screws: You will be stacking these as a bit of a stand off.
- 8x 3/16" Nylon Standoffs: These can be any size really as long as they sit flushly on top. These are there to prevent the potential for metal-on-mainboard issues.
- Tape: Can be any type, but the type that's easy to remove would be ideal.
- Thermal Compound: Can be picked up usually at most computer shops. Try to stick with Arctic Silver or some form of this.
- "Anti-static foam": Present in most mainboard boxes to cushion shipping blows. Good thing about this stuff is that most of it resists static and is commonly used as a bit of a "pillow" for diagnosing mainboards out of their cases. When you go to get your thermal compund, ask your computer guy if he has any of this laying around. Odds are he does. You can also get a "rubber foot" of sorts for this part of the project as well.
- Cleaning supplies: Pick up some Q-tips, Toothpicks, Rubbing Alcohol and some regular old toilet paper. More on this later.

Part 2: Disassemble?

Microsoft doesn't want you getting into these contraptions, or they at least want to see that you did if you send it back in for repair. Between flimsy plastic and release points that just don't want to release, getting this thing apart is a huge pain in the ass without breaking or cracking some plastic along the way. So where do you start? Here:



Poking at that point with your jeweler's screwdriver will release part of the faceplate. You still have to pull with a little bit of force to get it to pop the rest of the way off, but it comes off much easier with that little point released.

Next up, you'll be removing the ends of the case.



If you look closely at the patterns on the sides there, you'll see some filled in holes. This usually means there's a push point. If you lift up slightly on the front of the end piece, you can push the tabs on the inside as you work your way back. These come off rather easily if you identify where to push, but those push tabs are a little on the brittle side, so have patience. Get both of the endcaps removed and it'll be time to start taking off the clamshell.



I found it easier to start on the left and work my way to the right. This was due to the sheer number of release points. If you look at what I have circled above, those are your release/poke points. You'll see a really little tab in there to aim for in each of those tiny black spots. As you work your way to the right, you'll need to be pulling constantly on the edge to prevent the plastic from reclamping itself.



Once you get to the far left, it gets decidedly more difficult to get the tabs to release. Have patience here, this is the 2nd most trying part of the process. Once removed, your 360 should look like this:



Bust out that torque screwdriver and remove the six screws I have circled. This will release the other half of the clamshell. The screws will be very long (about 3"...I didn't measure).

When you remove the cap, the inside looks like this:



Remove the Airflow Sheath and the DVD Drive. Pay attention to the eject button as the real eject button is located on the mainboard itself and the button you press has a piece of plastic that goes down to it that likes to get hung. Once removed, flip the chassis back over.



The little black screws around the blatant X's in the middle of the case need to be removed. We won't actually be using these again, so feel free to dispose of them after the project is finished.



The 9 screws that are circled hold the mainboard to the chassis. Remove those with your torque screwdriver. The mainboard shouldn't actually fall out as there's very little wiggle room in the chassis itself and it's still held in by the front panel. Flip the case back over when all screws are removed from the bottom and look at the front of the chassis.



Contain your anger at removing this piece. It's simply a clip on piece of plastic.



Remove the three screws that are circled and pull piece forward. It's connected to the mainboard in the lower left corner, so apply a little more pressure there if it feels stuck.

Disconnect the fan from the mainboard and lift up on the metal lip that's covering it slightly. This will allow you to angle the fans slightly and pull them out. Careful of bending them forward too far as the little plastic "feet" on the bottom aren't exactly made of the sturdiest material in the world. Now it's just you and the very likely source of your red ring.

Work the mainboard out of the chassis. As mentioned before, there isn't much wiggle room. Getting the mainboard at too much of an angle causes it to get stuck, so work in small lifts at a time. Once it's out, flip it over and mutter every cuss word you can think of at the X-Clamps on the bottom because you're about to get even more pissed off than you thought you could.

I'm going to try to explain this in a manner that doesn't involve me taking a picture of a screwdriver that's in various positions around the X-clamp itself. First you have to understand what's at work here.



The standoffs on the bottom of the heatsink have notches in them.



The X-Clamps have "hooks" that attach to said notches. Using whatever method you can think of that doesn't involve hitting the mainboard (might want to consider some cardboard to put around the X-Clamps to avoid potential tool-stabbings), pry two adjacent corners of the X-Clamp off their notches. Once this is done, the clamp pretty much just comes off. With those removed, you can simply lift the heatsinks off the mainboard and remove the standoffs using the socket wrench or the pliers I mentioned earlier. You won't be using them again, so put them in the same place as the 8 black screws you removed from the bottom of the chassis.

Your disassembly is complete.

Part 3: The Modification

Time to get a little dirty.



Bust out the cleaning supplies I mentioned earlier. Clean off the bottom of the heatsinks. It may take a little effort. Do the same to the tops of the CPU and GPU, but if you run into some areas that seem dried out, use a toothpick to poke at it a bit to try to break the gunk up. You'll only want to use Q-tips dipped in rubbing alcohol on top of the mainboard, but you can pretty much use whatever type of scrubbing tool you want for the bottom of the heat sinks.

Once those are clean, bust out the drill with the 3/16" drill bit on it.



It's a repeat of a picture I already posted, but it's good to remind you which holes to widen. You're not going to want to go full-bore into the holes and you might even want to make sure you have a piece of wood or something on the other end of it in case the drill slips. Take a few minutes to clear off any jagged metal edges and metal shavings you have in there. Last thing you'll need is to have some stray shaving shorting something out accidentally on your mainboard.

Part 4: The Partial Re-assembly

Almost done!

Pick up the screws you bought for this project. I hope you're good with shapes because you'll need to know which end of the chassis is the front and which is the back. It makes a difference as to which screws you will use.

Place the longer screws in the holes where the CPU Heatsink (tall one with copper pipe) will be located and the shorter screws in the holes where the GPU heatsink (short flat one) will be located. Tape the heads of these screws to the chassis. This is to prevent them from falling out until you're ready to screw them into the heatsinks.

Trust me, nothing is more infuriating than getting a screw through the mainboard with everything in place only to have it fall out and hear those washers rattling around underneath the mainboard.

Place 3 washers on each screw. Place a single nylon washer on top of the stack of 3 washers. The end result looks like this (almost):



Major note here:

The 4 screws in the middle of that picture are close enough in proximity that washers could bump into each other or not sit entirely flush. Pay close attention to this fact before you proceed. The idea with the washers are for them to be approx. the same height as the molded "bubble" standoff just north of the middle two screws in the above picture.

Set the chassis aside for a minute and pick up your thermal paste/arctic silver/heatsink compound. Squirt a little bit on top of the dyes of the CPU and GPU. It doesn't take much. Pretty much just enough that, when spread out, it covers the surface of the dye itself. Too much can potentially cause spillage and subsequent shortages of the mainboard (although rare, but far more likely with a silver-based thermal paste).

Start trying to work your mainboard back into the now-modified chassis. This will be a pain, especially when trying to get the 8 new screws lined up. I found using my jeweler's screwdriver to poke the ends of the screws in the direction they needed to go helped out a ton and left me really with just the edges of the case to manipulate in terms of getting the mainboard settled back down to the bottom of the chassis.

Once in, pick a heatsink to work with first (read the GPU heatsink note in the next paragraph if you choose that one first). The heatsinks will not just slide down on the screws. You will need to turn the chassis over on it's side and work with one screw at a time. Work on opposite corners as best you can trying to keep the heatsink level all the way down. If it comes down at too much of an angle, your screw will tell you by becoming a lot harder to turn. Be mindful of stripping the threads when you feel more resistance than you think you should on the screw itself.

When putting the GPU heatsink in, there are a couple of memory modules next to the GPU itself. If you're looking at the GPU from the front of the mainboard, the modules I'm referring to are the black squares directly to the left. Cover these with a sliver of anti-static foam or a thin rubber foot before getting the GPU heatsink too far down. My end result looked like this:



Again, the idea here is to prevent the GPU heatsink from actually touching the modules. I'll explain more on how I came to this conclusion a little later.

Once your heatsinks are all the way down, reattach the front bezel (since it's your only means of turning the unit on) and it's time for some testing.

Part 5: The Test Phase

Odds are, everything you just went through did not actually fix your 360. This is the part that does. With your mainboard and heatsinks in your chassis, hook up your A\V and A\C cables. Push that little tiny button in the middle of the front bezel.

Red lights right?

Good. Leave the machine on and touch your heatsinks after about a minute. If they feel warm, you're in good shape most likely. If they don't warm up, turn off the unit, plug in the power cable to your fans and see if they spin constantly. If they do, then your CPU/GPU should be warming up. If they don't, then you'll probably need to loosen up your heatsinks until you see the fans spinning constantly.

(A shorted mainboard will result in the fans spinning for a second, then stopping followed up by 4 flashing red lights.)

If you're heatsinks are good and hot, but you're not getting a signal out of your 360, turn the unit off and apply pressure to the top of the GPU heatsink. Try to make sure it's even.

Remember, the main reason you're in this predicament in the first place is because your machine overheated and loosened up some solder joints. In order to re-establish a good, working solder joint involves melting the solder to the point where it can be manipulated. Pushing down on the top of the heatsink performs said manipulation when the solder is heated up. The process from here forward essentially goes:

1. Turn on.
2. If no vid signal, let run for a couple minutes until heatsinks are warm, then turn off.
3. Push down on or tighten/loosen the screws to the GPU heatsink.
4. Turn on.
5. If no vid signal, repeat steps 3 and 4. If vid signal then proceed.
6. Mess around in the 360 Console Software for a bit, but not too long. (No fans = bad).
7. Replace one piece at a time in the order of fans, airflow sheath, and dvd drive. Turn off the machine before attaching a new part. Turn on between each added part to make sure it completely boots. Once it boots with the DVD drive, play a game or two for a couple hours and see if it screws up. If not, you're in really good shape.

It may take several attempts to get it working steadily again. It took me about 30-45 minutes of "tweaking" the screws and pushing down on the heatsinks before I finally realized I was probably shorting something under the GPU heatsink. That's when I placed the Anti-Static foam there and I haven't looked back since.



Part 6: The Final Assembly.

Putting this thing back together isn't anywhere near as hard as taking it apart. Usually it's the complete opposite of that. You can pretty much follow the disassembly part of this guide in reverse to put it back together. But if you want the cliff notes, here you go:

(This is assuming you're starting from just the mainboard being in the chassis)

1. Install Fans and plug in.
2. Install Airflow Sheath (tab goes into fan).
3. Attach LED faceplate to front bezel.
4. Flip over and screw in mainboard screws (the set of 9, short, silver torque head screws).
5. Flip back over and pop the DVD drive back in. Be mindful of that stupid piece of plastic that actually reaches down to the real eject button. Takes a little wiggling to get it all the way in. The back right "foot" of the drive goes through the Airflow Sheath.
6. Place clamshell "lid" on top of chassis. Again, takes a little working, especially around the DVD drive.
7. Flip over and screw in the chassis screws (the set of 6 long ones).
8. Replace other half of clamshell and snap into place.
9. Place endcaps back on.
10. Place faceplate back on.

Hopefully it still works by the time you finish this or you're gonna be taking it apart again.



Conclusion

Pretty safe to say this won't work for everyone, but given the apparent commonality of this issue, this seemed like a good, cheap way to fix it if it's out of warranty. Once I buy a hard drive for it, I'll probably pick up a couple games and whatnot. I want to get a few days worth of burn in on it before I go spend that money however to make sure it's completely fixed.

After the initial fix last night, I ran a movie for a couple hours with no hiccups. I turned it off and did dynamis. When I turned it back on after dynamis, I got red-ringed again. So it was back to tweaking things (anti-static foam).

Just a few notes:

Before anyone comments on the pile of stuff in the background of my middle finger picture, that would be everything I hauled back from Kay's family for Christmas. I haven't found a place to put it yet.

Also, yes the Transformers figures are in disarray at the moment because of my niece's visitation earlier this week.

At any rate, hope this helps. If any of you want me to do this for you, I found this to be a fun project, so contact me for shipping information. Send me your broken 360 and all the stuff I listed above and I'll try to fix it. :)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Facebook and Qtipus vs. XBox 360

There have been 4 times in my life where I've been so shit-faced that I can't remember what I did. There of those times, I woke up on my friend's bathroom floor with a cat using my back as a bed and my pants leg as a litter box. The last time (which was about 5 years ago or so), I apparently created accounts like the one here on Blogger and...

...Facebook.

Among others that I apparently created were accounts on Match.com, Myspace.com and probably a couple of porn sites as well.

This is why I don't get drunk that often. I either end up smelling like cat piss or I end up doing dumb stuff like this that I don't remember until years later.

Anyway, I've never gotten into online social networking beyond the scope of Instant Messaging clients and FFXI. I've never felt the need to be registered with every possible social networking site in order to keep in touch with friends when a phone call, an email or an instant message would suffice.

I ended up getting a call from my sister about a week and a half ago around 10:00PM. This is about the time she's getting ready to go to bed. Before I go further tho', I need to give a little backstory here.

When I came back from my holiday excursion to Maine and Connecticut, I went to visit Sister a couple days later. Much to my dismay, she had discovered Facebook. Not that she didn't know about it already or anything, she just felt she couldn't participate in it the way her friends were wanting her to due to the location of the computer in relation to where the kids sleep and the kids themselves requiring her attention. It certainly wasn't at the forefront of her mind at any point in time unless she was asked by one of her friends that actually bothered to keep in touch via one of the preferred methods I listed above.

So how did she discover Facebook? (Or at least the time to play on it?)

She got a laptop for her b-day.

And she discovered an iPhone app...

And when I saw this after my holiday trip, I really just wanted to turn around and leave before I got sucked into the vortex.

Let's just say I knew this day was coming. It naturally came a lot sooner than I was hoping.

"I can't get this chat client on facebook to work! Can you help me out? Our cousin is sitting there chatting away and I can't respond."

(Not that you could really respond to this particular cousin anyway...she's an odd combination of Boxxy and Paris Hilton-in ego size only.)

I was pretty much content to just tell her No because I didn't care too much for said cousin and I cared less about feeding my sister's newly found Facebook addiction.

But yeah, I'm apparently a good big brother and reluctantly decided to help her out.

First things first...

Facebook has a chat client?

Remember, I'm a bit on the old school side. When someone is talking about an integrated web chat client, the first thing I'm thinking of is something along the lines of the old AOL Chatrooms.

Nope...that wasn't anywhere close. I'm officially one step closer to doing what I really want to avoid doing.

"There's no enter button or send button or anything?"

"Nope."

"Well that client sucks. Try something else."

"I'll just post on her wall that the client sucks."

"Ok."

"Or you could open a Facebook account and help me out that way."

/recordscratch

"I don't want to."

"Why not? It's just to help me out."

"I know how this works. I open that up and tons of people see me on there. Send me friend requests and I end up feeling bad if I ignore them. No thanks."

"You already have an account."

"...wat?"

/goestofacebook

Well I'll be damned, I do.

"This thing says you were born in 1983 though. You didn't know you had a facebook account?"

"Nope."

"Were you drunk when you created it?"

"Probably."

"Why would you create a Facebook account when you were drunk?"

"Probably because someone was naked in the same room as me pestering me about Facebook."

"Ewww."

So anyway...I updated Facebook. I took one look at that chat client and determined it was a piece of shit. And pretty much like I knew, friend requests started rolling in and I find myself checking my page once a day or so, much to the delight of my sister who finds it necessary to send me a text letting me know she's posted something to my wall or a picture about 5 minutes after she does it.

Seriously, she must think I just sit in a chair or something all day in front of a computer...


Oh wait..........


It gets me back to my original point though. I really dislike online social networking sites. Mostly because people tend to use things like Facebook as an acceptable means of keeping in touch. I get that it has it's purposes, but if your friendships are reduced to wall postings on a social networking site, that's no longer a friendship.

It's something I've felt was wrong with society in general and a trend I've observed with my customers over the years. People have issues communicating face to face anymore. More often times than not, I find myself speaking to people that are socially inept when you're face to face with them, but complete socialites when they're online. It's really kind of staggering.

Personally, don't expect me to keep up with the comings and goings of Facebook or to play their online games at all. I prefer real time conversations via face to face, telephone or instant messaging.

Qtipus vs. XBox 360

About a month ago, my brother-in-law's XBox red ringed. I've never owned a 360 and have never seen what this red ring actually is. I had a good idea that "red ring" = "hardware issue" just from the sheer number of complaints I've heard about the 360 through various forms of media.

When I heard that his more or less bit the dust, I asked him if he was gonna keep it for parts or if he was just going to get rid of it. He said he was going to keep it for parts.

About a week later, my sister (his wife) starts griping about the old 360 being in the floor and she's constantly stubbing her toe on it or tripping over it.

Now he's going to get rid of it.

So he gave it to me to let me tinker with it. I had done a little research on how to fix red ring issues. Most red ring issues, it would seem, are related to the CPU or GPU losing solid connections to the mainboard thanks to the 360's really shitty cooling system.

The rough translation to this is:

Parts come loose that aren't supposed to come loose thanks to the combination of being overheated and a flimsy heatsink system.

In my experiences with computers, the fans/heatsink combos aren't supposed to wiggle or have wiggle room. Most of these devices simply clamp down on a CPU socket via tabs and metal/plastic clips or they get fastened through the mainboard thanks to a mounting plate or push pins. No matter how it's done, they don't wiggle. Even if they did, you have to put a lot of force on them to get them to move.

Same thing should have applied to Microsoft's logic in designing the 360. I get that it's cool and all for them to have this snazzy X-shaped clip holding down the heatsinks (go go branding and damn, these things were a BITCH to remove), but I could literally move said heatsink slightly off the CPU itself w/o even unscrewing any part of it. Imagine if that 360 is standing on it's side (like most probably do). The weight of that heatsink isn't going to keep it flush against the CPU and the GPU heatsink is likely in the same boat although not as heavy and benefits from having the DVD drive sitting right the hell on top of it.

Loose soldering connections can sometimes be repaired by heating up the area and mashing the component down. In order to do that, I needed to fix the loose heatsink issues then use those heatsinks to address the lose components underneath them. (Yes they'll get really hot w/o fans blowing on them...go go eletrical resistance.)

The heatsinks themselves are idiotically designed (in case I haven't mentioned this already...). Here's what you need to know though:



1. That picture is one I stole off someone's website. I can't remember where though, so props to them for letting me use it. These are what the heatsinks look like. The one on the left is for the GPU (Graphics Processor Unit) and the one on the right would be for the CPU (if you don't know what that is, stop reading this blog and go learn...).

Note the 4 "pegs". These pegs are the standoffs that mount the heatsinks through the mainboard and are clamped down with...



2. ...these X-Clamps. These are the issue with the 360's cooling system. There's too much play in these clamps. (I stole that picture too from the same website.) Getting them off is a huge pain in the ass since they clip into little grooves on the aforementioned standoffs.



3. Said clamps get screwed in by some tiny little black screws through the bottom of the case. Again, this is not the issue. The issue is the amount of play between the standoffs and the X-Clamps themselves, but this picture is here to illustrate where I'll be starting the modification. If you can't figure out where, please, stop reading and take some classes in observation.

I'll end up using some panhead screws, some washers and some better thermal paste to eliminate the play these heatsinks have. Once the heatsinks are mounted, I'll heat the GPU up first (since I suspect that's where the main issue is) and start to apply pressure evenly over the top of it. It's basically:

- Turn 360 on and let it heat up.
- Turn 360 off, unplug it and press down on the heatsink.
- Turn 360 on and see if it works.
- If it doesn't, turn 360 off, apply more pressure, potentially targeting corners instead of central.
- Turn 360 on and see if it works.
- Repeat until it's working or I'm convinced it's dead.

If this works, I'll write up the guide on what I used. I'd be interested in potentially resurrecting a 360 someone else has that has red ringed too. My initial guesstimates on cost at the moment is about $15 for all the screws, washers, and thermal paste that are necessary.

There are lots of kits and guides out there on how to do this, so I'm not expecting that mine will be so drastically different from theirs that I'll end up with some ground-breaking 360 repair method. What I would hope to do better than anyone else is explain it.

Future updates incoming on this subject. :)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Baseball and Steroids

Not exactly an FFXI topic, but this is something that's been burning at me for a while.

I really hate the media. In a sense, I'm part of the media by writing this blog, but I write this because it's fun and healthy for me to do, not because I'm being paid to do it.

(I don't even have Google$en$e enabled on this thing even though it keeps pestering me to do so).

Most of the news outlets today thrive on extreme opinions from the "left" and the "right". They're constantly looking for any shred of racism that can be blown out of proportion (Sen. Reid's comments anyone?). If it's not bloody, verbally abusive to some minority, or dramatic, it's not newsworthy.

"Media" doesn't just include news outlets though. It includes Hollywood. It includes television shows. Shows like "American Idol" that allegedly interact with fans. Shows like "Survivor" that capitalize on a human being's innate desire to be better than everyone else...no matter the cost. Shows like "Big Brother", "Real World" (in it's heyday), "The Bachelor" where you essentially find the most morally bankrupt, dumbest individuals on the planet, shove them into a room on the premise that nothing is scripted and have audiences eat up the resulting mayhem.

Anyone else wonder why we're so far behind scholastically from countries like India and Japan? Hell, not even just scholastically...you could lump the word "physically" into that as well.

Before I go further, I want to clarify that yes, I'm aware Japan has a lot more of the, how should we say, "smut" programming on their airwaves than we do, but it would seem that their citizens at least have the ability to differentiate between reality TV and reality itself.

This brings me to the title of my post today.

Baseball and Steroids.

I grew up watching Baseball. I'm a life-long Braves fan. I remember as a kid, nearly crowding my grandmother out of her recliner while watching the TBS broadcasts of Dale Murphy, Phil Niekro and the likes on Braves teams that always managed to finish last (or close to it).

I remember collecting baseball cards when a guy named Mark McGwire came into the league. I had his rookie card from Topps. I don't have it anymore as I think I sold it in order to buy a Super Nintendo, but I still remember the way it looked and thinking..."I bet that guy could smash the piss out of a baseball."

A few weeks ago, news broke that Mark Mcgwire was returning to baseball. The guy had been dogged by steroid allegations for the better part of this decade. Especially after he famously stood before a congressional panel (the same panel that ultimately forced MLB to put a drug policy in place) and stated "I'm not here to talk about the past. I'm here to be positive about this subject."

News of his return meant that the question regarding his stats was finally going to be answered.

"Were they steroid fueled?"

Baseball's renaissance happened because of the home run chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa trying to chase down Roger Maris' then 37 year old record of 61 homers in a single season. Both men ended up breaking the record with the final result being McGwire 70, Sosa 66. I was captivated that year along with most of the nation. Baseball had taken it's place (at least temporarily) back as the nation's past time.

Yesterday, McGwire comes out and admits that yes, he was steroid fueled and the media has gone crazy. The biggest thing that he's being knocked for at the moment is:

He didn't own up to the fact that steroids pumped up his numbers.

I get it's a talking point, but really? The media has hounded this guy for literally decades about his use of PED's and now they're going to be nitpicky about this one particular point? Writers who have Hall of Fame votes are going to keep him out of the Hall of Fame because he didn't just flat out say "Yes, PED's inflated my numbers?"

If you read the entire transcript of McGwire's interview with Bob Costas (who irritates me quite a bit when he does interviews because he tends to ask the same question over and over and over again until he gets the answer he wants), McGwire flat out says that there isn't a pill or an injection in the world that will cause your hand-eye coordination to increase, thus PED's did not help him hit more homers.

PED's helped him get back on the field if you believe his primary reasoning for using them to begin with. More playing time = more homers if you follow the media's nitpicky point about this. The oft injured slugger spent a ton of time on the Disabled List and cites these frequent injuries as the reason he would juice up. I'm not dumb/naive enough to believe that he only juiced up while he was injured in order to get back out there, but c'mon...the media is making such a big deal out of this one little issue that it's no f***ing wonder athletes just leave the media to speculate about what is and isn't the truth. Did the roids add some distance to balls he hit directly? I'm no roid expert but I get the feeling that if I were to shoot some roids up right now and not go to work out, I still wouldn't be able to hit a ball out of the infield of a little league diamond.

No no, it's because McGwire roided up and then actually went to work out some more that he was able to hit balls that far. Is that really so different? Sure, there are long term health risks and I'm not condoning their use, but the guy put in the time after he used them. It wasn't like he just injected himself with something made from horses and could instantly bash a ball 800ft. Is that really any different than a guy in the cubicle next to you drinking a 5 Hour Energy and working later than you do? The guy is being penalized for being a maniacal work-out nazi.

Again, not saying illegal substances should be involved, but I'm of the mind set that, yes roids helped him recover faster from his workouts so he could...go work out again and make himself better, stronger, faster, etc.

When I hear people like Peter Gammons, Jayson Stark, Dan Patrick etc all hammer the point of "If he recovered faster from injuries or from workouts, yes, it inflated his numbers and I want to hear him admit this", I have a few questions:

Is there really a time-table or standard that's been set for how long a player should be out from an injury? Torn ACL? Out a year minimum? Come back sooner and it's safe to assume that PED's played a part in the recovery? Broken wrist? Out 6 months? Come back later and the guy doesn't give a crap about baseball cause he's getting paid anyway?

Is juicing up really any different from the "greenies" the generation before the "Steroid Era" took to keep themselves awake?

Is using the technologies of today too much of an advantage over what Babe Ruth, Warren Spahn, Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, etc had?

My favorite thing about all of this is the outrage from fans. It's easy to sit on your couch and profess "I'd never do something like that!" when said person doesn't have a contract that pays them 20 million smackers per year potentially waiting for their signature.

"HE DESTROYED THE GAME!"
"HE NEEDS AN ASTERISK BESIDE HIS NAME FOREVER IN THE RECORD BOOKS!"
"ROGER MARIS IS TURNING OVER IN HIS GRAVE!"
"IT WAS ALL FAKE! I TUNED IN FOR NOTHING!"

It's pretty amazing what the anonymity of the internet can do for someone's opinion.

What's even worse is that a lot of major news outlets actually use these people to bolster their outrageous points.

Take this article for example:

Ban McGwire From Baseball

Mr. Wilstein wants to do exactly what the article says. I read through that article and really wanted that 5 minutes of my life back. Intestingly enough, the guy has some history on the subject:

Editor's note: Steve Wilstein is a retired Associated Press columnist and author. His AP report on Mark McGwire's andro use in 1998 gave the public its first look at what became baseball's "Steroids Era." His work was cited as pivotal by former Sen. George Mitchell in his 2007 report to the commissioner of baseball on steroids in the sport.


Who blew the whistle on the spitball era? Who blew the whistle on the pine-tar era? Who blew the whistle on the corked-bat era? Why are there guys who were found guilty of all these various atrocities in the Hall of Fame? Why is McGwire being put on the same level as Pete Rose?

Think about it for a second and ask yourself the question:

If the primary issue here is, "the playing field was not level", how do you go about proving it wasn't? Was McGwire the only one who juiced up during that era? What about that pitcher who suddenly found life on his fastball despite being at an age where speeds normally decline? What about that pitcher who may have needed a little extra oomph to his fastball in order to land that next huge contract. I'm not saying it was all right for players to juice up, but the notion that the playing field wasn't level and because of that, players found guilty of PED abuse should be banned from baseball is absolutely ludicrous.

The vast majority of players were on them. It was baseball's dirty little secret. What happens if an owner put pressure on McGwire to return faster from an injury? Should the owner be banned? Should a manager be banned if he tried to suggest it?

The point is, you cannot isolate one player and you cannot isolate one era to be stricken from the record books. Players are voted into the Hall of Fame because of their stats against the rest of the players from that era. A guy like Chipper Jones (of my beloved Braves) has never been linked to 'roid usage, but likely won't make the Hall of Fame because he played in the Steroid Era.

Pete Rose was banned from the game because he willingly put himself in position to alter the outcome of games for his own personal profit.

Steroid usage isn't so different, but steroids are a by-product of technological advances and aren't so different from that elliptical machine that helps an athlete build up his knee strength faster after major surgery. Gambling has been banned from baseball for far longer due to it's known effects on the outcome of games.

Want to talk about McGwire's andro usage? While organizations like the NFL and IOC had banned it at the time, the government had not. How do you hold that against someone? It wasn't illegal to use and it wasn't banned by the organization you worked for. Did he stop using it after the govt and MLB banned it? He says he did, but who knows. We know we certainly didn't see a jug of it in his locker after a game anymore.

The public in general is tired of the 'roid talk.

Myself personally, I'm tired of asshat writers and talk show hosts who have to nitpick every single syllable of a star's words just to captivate their audiences. If they have to do that, then they need to find another profession or society is dumber than I thought it was for continuing to listen/read/watch them. The general public knows that any athlete is always looking for an edge. A NASCAR driver is looking for some modification to their car that would lower their wind resistance by a fraction. An NBA player is looking for a pair of shoes that would add an extra inch or two to their jump. An NFL player is no different than an MLB player in that they're looking for something that would make them bigger, faster, stronger, whatever stat they need to excel and be better than anyone else. Does this make it right in some cases?

Not really no, but it's what, we as fans, have come to expect. We want to see records broken. We want to see the people that we pay millions upon millions of dollars push themselves to the limit. We want to see balls flying 500-600ft. We want to see a linebacker knock a running back out of his shoes. The mass media apparently just wants something to run into the ground and act as if they're reflecting the public's opinion in general.

You want to question something, question things like polls. Does ESPN.com's latest poll asking if McGwire should be allowed into the Hall of Fame accurately reflect the public's opinion?

Is there a bot running somewhere in ESPN's headquarters manipulating the results in order to get the most reaction?

Whatever you believe the answer to that question is, likely reflects your general views on the subject and what is more likely to reflect the true opinion of most casual sports fans.

That of:

Just shut the f*** up and play ball already.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Busy Weekend n' Stuff

I ended up doing a ton more this weekend than I originally had planned or felt like I did. Here's the run down...

Salvage

I went to the Thursday and Friday Salvage runs. Thursday was rather interesting as Old Man decided to mix everyone's jobs up. I know I won't remember everyone's jobs, but the roster usually looks like this:

Ring: SAM or WHM
Omoi: WHM or BRD
Celestria: BRD
Blaize: THF
IceB: RDM or THF
Darkdawn: DRG or COR
Ninjafox: RDM or THF
Q: DRG

The job set up we did on Thursday looked like this (apologies in advance if I missed something):

Ring: NIN
Omoi: DRG
Celestria: MNK
IceB: THF
Darkdawn: RDM
Ninjafox: DRG
Q: WHM

Needless to say, I was rusty. I also came to the conclusion my WHM gear is rather high end for a job that I barely use...so I decided to sell some of my higher end stuff and replace it with mid-range/acceptable items.

Back to the run tho', was rather bonkers. It definitely added an air of freshness to the runs. I believe the only item picked up was the Lv.35 Skadi pants, which is rather rare for us to begin with.

Friday saw us do SSR with our more normal job setups. Ended up seeing Lv.35 Ares pants drop and {Nice to meet you} :)™ is now 71/75 Salvage pieces. If I remember correctly, she just needs Lv. 35 Usu body, a Skadi piece and Lv. 35 Ares head and feet(?). Should go to show she's been doing Salvage a very long time. Her inseparable in-game counterpart has picked up a similar number of parts as well.

I don't know what they did on Sunday as I was occupied with another task that's bugged me since I hit 75 on DRK. I'll get into more of that later.

Einherjar

Saturday's Einherjar run saw us doing T3 as an extra run before Odin. Was a relatively solid run. Ozulus' first real foray into pulling caused us to cut it a little closer than I would have liked, but we still won and I probably could have fixed the slowish pulling by jumping in myself to pull.

The series of runs between our last Odin (Dec 19th) and the upcoming one have been rather bad. A number of late starts and some holiday hangover are the primary reason for the frustration, but the past week seems to have seen these issues rectified.

"How bad was it?" you might ask...

We managed to lose a T1 run with 24 people. This was the run right after Christmas, so "holiday hangover" was blamed mostly.

Anyway, T3 win is a T3 win. Hopefully Odin is nice to us and drops some long-waited-for E.Bodies.

WotG City Missions

I kind of held off doing these because I didn't want to wait as long between the end of these and the next updates. I did most of the legwork for these last weekend while I was up at Kay's with Kay. The last fights that were released were rather tough, but nothing to really write home about. I rounded up Celestria and Blaize to help out with these, but quickly found out that we needed more than 4 despite the caliber of players we had.

I went looking at FFXIAH.com's search feature for people who were on Fate A Haze. While this didn't mean that they had necessarily done the latest batch of quests, it did mean there was a much better chance that they were there. I happened to see a number of Obsidian members on that list, so I started asking around. Most hadn't done the new stuff yet and if they had, they were tied up doing some other stuff at the moment (last minute invites are last minute etc...). I was referred to Drakus who, thankfully lent us a hand.

While waiting for Drakus to finish up his crafting binge that I interrupted, another old friend appeared next to where we were standing. Kauna just happened to be putting together people for the final Windurst fight. Our crew combined with his crew and wiped out the Windy BC (which was a joke really with 10 people...). Kauna then hung out with us to finish up Bastok and Sandy.

Howl From The Heavens - Shows us the day the "great beast" (Fenrir) was summoned to turn the tide of war into Windurst's favor. Out of the three final fights, this one was probably the weakest from a challenge standpoint, but, by far, the strongest from a cutscene standpoint. That departs from the norm of the fights themselves as the Windurst fights and cutscenes are the strongest of the three. I won't get into the spoilers, but I will say you're missing a lot if you don't do this leg. There's a TON of story they tell in this particular series of quests.

What Price Loyalty - Bastok's story has kind of jumped around a bit. It's only been the past couple of updates where any sense of continuity was established. The reason I liked the cutscenes here was it got into the history of one of Vana'diel's more legendary characters, Zeid. We all know Zeid and Volker were primarily responsible for ending the war and Zeid's appearances throughout the game are usually clouded in mystery and questions about where his loyalties lie. The storyline has progressed to a point now where it's pretty clear we're on the precipice of that final confrontation.

The fight itself isn't difficult if you generally know what to expect. Klara's AoE petrification weapon skill is a pain to deal with, so you have to go in with mages that are on top of the Stona game. The first 50% of the fight is cake. The last 50% sees Klara potentially lay a significant beatdown on anyone who's pissed her off. The first couple of attempts our crew had (sans Drakus and Kauna) saw us lose at 33% and...1%. We were also on our way down during the third attempt until Drakus decided Mijin Gakure was necessary and ended up getting the killshot.

Blood of Heroes - This is easily the toughest leg/fight out of the three. The fight itself is set up similar to Splitting Heirs, only with a much weaker main NM. Excenmille joins the battle as well and it's necessary to keep him alive.

My biggest beef with this storyline is the importance placed on the kids and how the kids seem to be insanely more powerful/intelligent than their adult counterparts. Don't get me wrong...some of the cutscenes in this series have been amazing, but often times, they're ruined by the childish overtones. The cutscenes here are decent, but again, too much kid.

The last fight in this series thusfar is rather chaotic at the beginning. You're faced with Kingslayer Doggvdegg, 4 Orc Warriors, 2 Orc Black Mages and Kingslayer's pet bugard. We didn't do anything particularly special in dealing with this, but the idea was to have one healer focus on the kid, another person kite the Orc assistants while the main melee group took down the bugard. Once the bugard was down, kill the BLMs, then the WARs (who were rather weak...) and then focus on Kingslayer while keeping the kid alive. Once the bugard and first few "babies" were dead, it was a very easy fight.

The cutscene afterwards saw everyone's favorite BCG General show up and foil Kingslayer's trap along with the funeral for some Elvaan hero that seemed to have just instantly shown up that gave his life when the trap the San d'Orian forces laid got messed up by some dipshit soldier dropping his sword. The kids have a reunion of sort while they watch people cry around them over their fallen comrade. This fight was easily the toughest out of the three, but probably had the weakest story "ending" of them all.

Many thanks to everyone that helped out here. It's pretty obvious that this wasn't the end of the city story lines as references to a final battle in Oztroja are made, Klara got away and the San d'Orian army is still hidden away in Xarcabard. I don't know if they're going to tie all of these things together with the next batch of mission updates, but my best guess is that we're going to see WotG Main story update - City finales - WotG finale. This likely means WotG isn't going to be done until the end of 2010.

Weapon Skill Points

This was the main thing I did over the weekend and the reason I missed Salvage on Sunday. This is also one of the main reasons I dread leveling other jobs because I know I'm going to have to unlock some weapon skills or latents or something that involves me spending hours on end somewhere just spamming my weapon skills with someone.

Between Saturday and Sunday, I accumulated 850 weapon skill points across three weapons. I picked up Ground Strike, Spiral Hell and Insurgency. I whored out a lot of people in the process (namely people with Impulse Drive for the latter two weapon skills) and many thanks to those that helped me out.

Still on the list of things to get done before leveling BLM is to get Lect's Coffinmaker, Dissector and his WS Detonator unlocked. Not as many points there as he's been working on them off and on in the same time period that I was working on mine.

Now that the holiday stuff is over, I'm hoping I can resume a more normal-ish schedule. There are still a number of little things I want to get done in game that I haven't yet, but this weekend went a long ways towards clearing that list.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Holy DS Games Batman...

So apparently my DS collection has grown by leaps and bounds without my realization of it...

When I got home from my 2.5 week holiday excursion, I did some reorganization of my desk. Part of this reorganization meant finding all my DS games that were scattered about various places in the house. A few on top of a dresser. A few on a shelf in a closet, etc.

Turns out I've managed to collect 32 of the things since I got a DS about 3 years ago. Oddest thing about it is...

I've only purchased 7 of them myself. The rest have been some combination of birthday and Christmas gifts. Kay likes to get DS games for me for a lot of different occasions. This is mostly due to her online survey obsession that rewards her with Paypal, Gamestop or Amazon.com currencies. Kay's sister manages a toy store, so she pitches in with games as well since she gets a discount.

I ended up getting just this Christmas/Birthday:

Bowser's Inside Story
The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks
Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days
007: Quantum of Solace
Lock's Quest
Lego Batman
Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures
Monster Mayhem
Bangai-O Spirits
Rondo of Swords
Tom Clancy's Endwar

Kay's sister likes to get both of us kind of the off-beat games. The games someone would see on the shelf and think about getting, but might not because they find something else they want. They also usually end up in the clearance bin.

This can sometimes lead to some bad video game experiences, but for the most part, these are games I otherwise would have never tried if she hadn't got them for me.

As an example, a couple years ago, she got me a game called Elite Beat Agents. It's a rather cheesy game, but oddly addicting, especially if you're very familiar with the collection of songs for each "level".

Out of the games she got me this year, I'm putting my money on Lock's Quest falling into that category. 007 games are pretty standard and the other 3 games she got me I had never heard of or seen, so the jury is still out on those.

The major games on that list came from Kay this year. I'll likely be doing some full reviews on all of these when I get around to playing through them. Bowser's Inside Story just got finished up and it's probably one of the most enjoyable Mario-based games I've played in a long long time.

So yeah, I got a number of games to get through outside my already busy in-game and real life. Good thing I mostly play the DS as I'm winding down for the night... :)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Those three words usually make people cringe. When I see them, the first phrase I think of is:

"Empty Promises"

I also ask:

"Why does the year changing have to coincide with the decision to make better choices?"

I've made NYRs in the past. I have no idea what I'm batting in regards to the successful and failed ones as I mostly would make these just to humor someone or for some sort of a class assignment. These things come in all shapes and sizes and, coincidentally enough, NYRs usually have something to do with one's shape and size.

However, given the changes going on already in my life and the fact that I can publish some of these resolutions essentially for the world to see and hold my feet to the fire over, I decided I'd give it another try to see what happens.

Without further adieu...

Qtipus' New Year's Resolutions

1. Lose 30lbs. I'll get this one out of the way first because it's obligatory to any resolution's list. This means I need to go buy a scale and stop eating so much McDonald's. My weight ballooned up mostly because of my diet. I'm on the road quite a bit because of my profession, so bagged/sack lunches aren't always an option.

When I graduated from high school about 14 years ago (guh...that long...), I was 5'11" and weighed about 130-135lbs.

Can you say, "Bean Pole".

My metabolism back then made me invincible. I could seriously go eat 3 or 4 triple cheeseburgers from McDonald's or about 24oz of steak and a large order of chili cheese fries from Longhorn's back then and be ready for another meal about an hour later. Same thing still applies nowadays in regards to how fast I'm ready to eat again (which doesn't really help matters), but I can't eat the quantity of food in one sitting that I used to.

Where am I at now?

5'11", 195lbs.

I put on about 20lbs of muscle during my first two years of college because of a work out regimen we band geeks undertook.

Yes, I know...lolbandgeek.

Don't be so quick to judge though. While we were not out there running full force into each other constantly, doing a marching band routine is a lot harder than most people think. I was athletic enough to play a sport like baseball or basketball, but I opted to carry around a trombone and sousaphone instead because I found them to be more fun.

Anyway, as Y2K approached, I was a rather beefed up version of myself weighing in around 160lbs. Weight lifting, situps, pullups, pushups, cardio on top of having to work 2 jobs and the near endless hours of classes and practice time had me in insane shape.

As I became super interested in computers and opening my own business, my weight ballooned. Two Thanksgivings ago, I made a deal with Kay about losing weight and I failed to meet the goal I set for myself. So I'll try again.

Resolution: Weigh 165-170lbs by 2011.

2. Learn to build and maintain databases.

Oddball goal right?

Not really when you consider what the future is looking like it'll hold for me at the moment. I'm essentially being groomed to be the replacement for the head IT guy here at "work". This means at some point within the next couple years, I'll likely be closing my business down and coming to a point where this will actually be work instead of "work".

My strengths in the computer industry revolve around troubleshooting common hardware and software issues and repairing them. When it comes to programming, I don't have the patience for it.

I discovered a few years ago that patience (or the lack thereof) isn't really a quantifiable emotion or response. It's a choice. You either do what it takes by taking the necessary steps or you go do something else. More often times than not, "going to do something else" just makes life worse. Opportunities like the one I have here at "work" don't grow on trees, so the necessary steps I have to take to make the most of said opportunity include doing something I've always believed I didn't have the patience to do.

Five years ago, I would have scoffed at this opportunity because I didn't want to learn.

Today, however, I'm more than willing because it expands my horizons and makes me better.

Resolution: Database Programming. Learn it. Love it.

3. Financial Freedom.

No secret I messed up quite a bit during the course of trying to run my own business. It's taken me years to dig myself out of the mess that's part my fault for making and part the system's fault for being so shitty. I made great strides in 2009 towards cleaning things up and 2010 looks like I'll finally be able to move back out of the parent's house and into my own place again.

No one likes living with their folks. I was out on my own from 1996-2006 aside from a short, 3 month stay back with my folks while I was looking for a new place around 2001. Most view someone living with their folks that's in their 30s as a sign that the kid is a complete slacker incapable of living outside the nest.

I moved back in late 2006 because of spiraling debt due to my business. Most people move back in because they lost their job, got divorced, etc for a short while. For me, I didn't really "lose my job" per se, but I had to stop paying myself directly. I also moved back in because I was staring $150,000 in debt in the face with no f***ing idea how to get it under control.

"Why did you keep playing FFXI during that time period?"

In seeking out counseling for my financial issues, it was made clear to me that I needed to find one or two things that make me happy and don't cost a ton of money as I work towards repaying what I owe. FFXI and Transformer figures became those two things. Over the course of a year, I would spend approx. $800-1000 between those two hobbies. When you compare that to knocking out $10,000-20,000/year of the debt, it's a very small percentage.

"Happiness is the key to financial freedom."

I took that lesson to heart and always tried to find the good things in what I was dealing with. That doesn't mean I succeeded every time as there are people in this world who want to do nothing more than ruin your day (re: some debt collectors), but it did mean I at least tried.

"Why didn't you just file for bankruptcy?"

I looked into it. It was definitely the easy way out. Unfortunately, I was in a situation where my parent's assets were tied to business debt. My failure to pay off debts means that my folks lose their house. It wasn't my choice for them to put the house on the line, but it was a decision my Dad made because he had faith I wouldn't fail and because he always taught me to never run from a debt I legitimately owe.

Starting from 2006, my total business-related debt was approx $150,000 owed to approx 17 different entities.

As of today, it stands at approx $80,000-85,000 owed to approx 5 different entities.

I'm not going to set a goal of where my debt needs to be by the end of 2010, but I will get 3 of those entities out by the middle of spring pretty easily.

Resolution: Debt under control enough to re-establish my own independence.

4. Get Girlfriend moved down here.

This is a biggie. Her lease is up at the end of June. Her ability to move down here is directly related to the previously listed resolution. Income isn't a huge concern on both ends, but it would be nice if I could lend a major helping hand financially to getting her down here and move into a place where the phone isn't ringing constantly from one or two companies trying to collect money I don't owe.

This is also a big step towards getting me back out of the parent's house as well. Obviously, before I take this step, I want to make sure I can support myself, but having a significant other's income to help with the monthly expenses would help paying off the debt load on both ends go a lot faster.

Resolution: Girlfriend moved to KY by the end of July 2010.

5. Improve my Credit score.

Man this area is a vicious world. This is going to involve a lot of legal wrangling and it'll be a slow process getting it built back up to an acceptable level, but this is something I have to do.

There are a lot of little ticky-tack entries on my credit score that have been charged off. A couple utility bills that I have proof I paid, but it doesn't note that I did. A few entries related to business debts that I still owe, but said debtors are being unreasonable with fees and whatnot. Now that I can mostly afford attorney fees, we'll see how reasonable they are when talking to a law firm instead of directly to me.

Resolution: Improve my credit score by 50-100 points.

6. Get at least 2 more jobs to 75 in FFXI.

While this one isn't necessarily a huge resolution, I'm to a point in this game where really there's not much left for me to do or experience. Going as DRG to everything I do gives only one perspective to the game itself. Going as another job gives another perspective.

Most of you know I ended up getting 2 jobs to 75 in 2009. PLD and DRK. Because of Gungnir though, I'm rarely on either of these jobs. I suspect that will be the case with whatever job I level (unless I complete another relic), so that basically means I will be leveling jobs for the sheer "fun" of it.

I've made no secret that BLM will be the next job I take to 75. As for the other one, I'm undecided as of now, but...

(I know some of you will laugh really hard at this...)

I'm leaning towards BRD or COR as the job afterwards.

Any of you can feel free to start exhaling as hard as you can to try to get me to lean in a different direction now...

Resolution: Level at least 2 more jobs to 75 in 2010.


So there you have it. My own personal list of resolutions to work on in 2010. At the beginning of 2011, I'll come back here to see if I achieved any of these. Or I'll just check them off as I achieve them.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Drives

For Christmas, Kay and I concocted a plan to bring Mom and Dad along for the trip to Maine this year. Obviously, our families were going to have to meet at some point, so may as well make it now instead of say...having them meet at a wedding and end up seeing them potentially squabble the entire time.

Bowling Green to Hartford - 12/18/09-12/19/09

We ended up leaving a day earlier than expected due to trying to get ahead of that winter storm that dumped 2'+ of snow all over the east coast. About 8:30PM CST, we got onto the road. I expected it to take a little longer than usual since the weather was kind of crappy and cause I knew Mom and Dad would need more stops than I would.

Yeah...7:30PM EST the next day...we arrived.

TWENTY TWO HOURS IN A CAR FOR A TRIP THAT NORMALLY TAKES ME SIXTEEN!!

/rage

Here's a list of why it took us so long:

- Late dinner (Mom and Dad have issues eating in a moving vehicle...)

- One hour snooze at a rest stop shortly after 2AM EST.

- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation apparently thinking "Eh...we'll plow it later". I kid you not...the second we crossed over from OH into PA, it literally looked like a salt truck or a plow hadn't bothered to touch the highways at all. This idiocy ended up costing us a lot of time. Namely at the start where it took us literally 2 hours to go 65 miles.

- New tires for my car. I still had about 10k miles worth of tread left on my tires, but I had been warned they weren't the best in the world for winter-weather travel. So...kill 2.5 hours in Wal-Mart waiting for a new set of Goodyears to get put on.

After the tires got replaced, there wasn't anything of note that really slowed us down other than a couple more meals/rest breaks/shopping. The weather was pretty crappy until we got closer to the PA/NY border and my plum-colored car ended up getting a white paint job somewhere along the way thanks to all the salt that the PA DoT finally decided to coat the roads with.

Hartford to Lincoln 12/22/09

We ended up leaving between 7-8AM.

This drive was relatively uneventful from a weather standpoint. Winter Storm "Alberta" (as it was called by a meteorologist in Hartford...the only weatherish person I heard actually refer to that winter storm by name) had dumped about 8" of snow Sunday evening. About a day and a half had gone by and most of the roads had been cleared out.

We met up with King Cranky Cat/Travis at a Cracker Barrel in Tewksberry/bury/howeverthehellitisspelled for breakfast.

Given the previous adventures of Travis at the summer BBQ in Maine, it was no surprise that:

A) He managed to sneak into Cracker Barrel with no one noticing him and got up behind me right as I was making an ass of myself by looking through a Transformers viewfinder.

B) He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts despite it being 20 degrees outside.

C) He ordered the blandest things he could find on the menu. A scrambled egg, a biscuit and some water.

It was a surprise though that he wasn't cranky. I told my folks he earned the King Cranky moniker for obvious reasons and after breakfast, they remarked "He was a nice young man and not cranky at all!"

I could only say "You caught him on a good day then. He probably found something he really liked on Netflix last night." :)

Pretty much drove the rest of the way up to Bangor without stopping. Once in Bangor, we stopped off at a number of places to do a little shopping and visit Kay's sister. Once done there, we drove to her parent's house and arrived about 4:30-5PM.

Lincoln to Hartford - 12/27/09

Christmas has come and gone and now it's time to head back to do some New Year's stuff.

We ended up dropping Mom and Dad off at a bus station in Bangor. The reasoning for this had to do with the following:

- Kay and I had never been to Boston-Logan airport before.
- The weather was rainy and shitty.
- There literally wasn't room in the car for all the presents the 4 of us got and 4 people + luggage.

Because of that last entry, we ended up loading up Kay's sister's car with our gifts. The plan was to drop the folks off at the bus station then go to her sister's house to pick up the gifts to transport back to Hartford.

The plan went flawlessly. We left between 6:30-7:00AM thinking we'd need the extra time to make sure they got on the 9AM bus. Getting on the road to Bangor, we noticed our early departure was useless since the roads were clear and it was just raining. We ended up wasting some time at Dunkin' Donuts before dropping my parents off and going to pick up the gifts.

At her sister's place, we hung out for a bit killing a little more time. The intention was to go hit up a couple stores to look for a couple odds and ends that would compliment our gift collection, but since it was Sunday...yeah they didn't open at their normal weekday hours.

Once we were finally back on the road, we stopped off in Augusta to look around since our searches were fruitless in Bangor. Fruitless searches happened in Augusta and we stopped off in Portland to look around and have lunch at Pizza Hut. By the time we were done eating, it was about 3PM and I was fkn tired. I managed to make it back to the aforementioned Cracker Barrel before having to pull off and doze for a bit. Not even a 5 Hour Energy could keep me awake for a couple more hours until we made it back to Kay's place.

Finally arrived back around 6PM. Long ass day.

Hartford to Cincinnati - 01/03/10

Holy balls I fkn HATE winter now thanks to this drive.

I left Hartford about 7:00AM.

Snowing the entire way up to Columbus, OH with winds constantly blowing my car (and the snow for that matter) all over the damn highway. I only pulled off at a couple places for gas, food and walmarts/shitstops/legstretchings/transformerhunting.

The only major event that happened aside from being constantly stressed the entire drive due to the weather was when I was on I-80.

I came down this hill doing about 85MPH (speed limit of 65MPH). I had passed up this gold Pontiac S.U.V. and right as I came around the corner, there was an emergency vehicle/state trooper parking space complete with 3 state trooper cars waiting to catch speeders coming down that hill. One of said troopers pulled out and started coming up behind me, but then pulled in behind the Pontiac and ended up giving them a ticket.

Could have easily been me and I have no clue how it wasn't...

The total distance between Kaelis' place and Kaylea's place is about 770 miles. Somehow, going from Hartford to Cincinnati...that distance drops by 20 miles according to my odometer. Either way, I made the drive in my customary time of a little over 12 hours (arrived about 7:15PM), but when you consider I spent a little over an hour on the side of the road, it should give you a pretty solid idea of how fast I was driving. :)

But yeah...hate snow. hate arctic wind. hate snow + arctic wind.

<\3<\3<\3<\3<\3<\3 road salt.

(I have a white car again...)

I had to pull off about 100 miles north of Columbus, OH because I could no longer see out of my driver and passenger front windows due to them salting up. Aside from the areas my windshield wiper touched, everywhere on the outside of my car was basically one big salt brick.

At the gas station I pulled off at, I ended up breaking the squeegie handle because I had to press so damn hard to get the salt off my windows.

(Hope they don't mind...)

Kaelis and Mrs. Kaelis received a spoon gift set from me for Christmas due to the sheer stupidity of this video that Kaelis managed to waste 10 minutes of my life with:



Cincinnati to Bowling Green - 01/04/10

I left Kaelis' place after a night eating sushi and roaming a Wal-Mart. I pulled out of his driveway about 5:45AM. I was happy thinking all the snow was finally behind me.

Yeah I was wrong.

All along I-71 was snow and more blowing snow. It wasn't until I got past Louisville that the snow let up.

I finally got back into Bowling Green around 9:15 AM (eastern time) where I promptly pulled into the parking lot of "work" and put in my normal hours.

Conclusion

Fuck I'm tired.

Tally up the time spent driving/on the road and you end up with my spending approx. 57-58 hours travelling. Only about 1/4-1/3 of that was driving in decent conditions. The rest was crappy winter weather. I totaled up nearly 3300 miles in 2.5 weeks just on highways alone. This doesn't include excursions to places like Kay's friend that lives in Avon, CT (bout 20 mins or so away over a freakin' mountain. Avon owns the most pansy Five Guys staff in existence since they closed early for "severe weather" on New Years Eve...wasn't even 3" of snow on the ground and every other business around them was open).

Doesn't include excursions to nearby Manchester, CT because Kay just had to have Outback Steakhouse...

(FYI: Blooming Onion for dinner + THINKING ABOUT 5 Hour Energy for the drive home the next day is far worse than actually eating any form of wasabi and drinking a 5 Hour Energy the next day...)

Whoops, I digressed.

In total conclusion:

Tons o time in the car + nearly 3500 miles total on the ol' engine (that's now over 151K miles) + wintery weather =



(Thanks failblog...really couldn't have said it better myself.)

Monday, January 4, 2010

{I'm back!} Bitches!

Just got in this morning from a very snowy drive home...

Now to catch up on some work, emails, etc...

Qtipus' Information

FFXI subscriber since NA release.