Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Results of the Solo Car Commuter Satisfaction Survey

The last response to the survey was timestamped 6/23, so I decided it was time to look at the results.

There were 177 responses. While I did post this survey elsewhere, I believe that most of the responses probably came from Publibbers.

The averages were as follows:

one-way distance to commute: 11 to 15 miles
number of stop signs: 1 to 5
number of traffic lights: 6 to 10
average speed limit off the highway: 25 to 30
minutes willing to walk to public transportation: no more than 10
minutes willing to wait for a bus or train: 15 to 30

Satisfaction with commute: on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being the
best and 10 the worst, the average is about a 4.

Correlations (-1.0 to +1.0) were as follows:

Our unhappiness with our commute correlates with the distance traveled by a factor of 0.6

The correlation with the number of stop signs was insignificant: 0.08

The number of traffic lights matters a little more, at 0.22

The higher the speed limit on the non-highway roads, the happier we are, with a correlation of -0.3, but there were many "does not apply" responses from the folks who spend more than half of their commute on the highway.

We're willing to wait for the next bus or train about 15 to 30 minutes on average, but that appears to be independent of how happy or unhappy we are with our present commute. Correlation: -0.09

The more unhappy we are with our current commute, the longer we'd be willing to walk to catch a bus or train. Correlation: 0.28

I had expected that the number of stop signs and traffic lights would matter more than they do, but I'm not surprised that the most significant factor is the distance. City planners are going to have to increase the frequency of those trains and buses if they want to get more people out of their cars, and this is something that I used to harp on in my previous hometown, where the buses run every hour, so I'm gratified to see those numbers.

The raw data can be seen here (and downloaded, too, I think).


Thank you to everyone who responded, and to everyone who caught the flaws, and to everyone who had suggestions for improving the questions--some I fixed, and some I'm saving for another time.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Windows XP Tuneup Guide

Many of us have older (3 or more years old) Windows XP computers that we're not ready to replace yet, for whatever reason. Here are some steps you can take to keep that machine running a little longer while you decide which new 17", Intel i7 core, 4GB laptop you're going to replace it with.

0. Make a copy of your My Documents folder and put it in a safe place. The copy can be to a flash drive, an external hard drive, CD-ROM, data DVD, or a networked drive.

1. Update your anti-virus software and do a complete scan of the C: drive. There are several good anti-virus programs that you can pay for--Symantec, McAfee, Kaspersky, etc.--and also a few good ones that are free. You only need one; if more than one anti-virus program is running at the same time, they are likely to fight each other. Choose one and keep it up-to-date. Schedule an update every week--every day if it's your only computer and it's mission-critical--and a full scan once a week or once a month. AVG is a free anti-virus program that can be obtained at http://free.avg.com/us-en/download-avg-anti-virus-free

2. Do a Disk Cleanup and Disk Defrag. These two programs are at Start > Accessories > System Tools.

3. Download, install, and run CCleaner. This free program finds and cleans up problems in the Registry and deletes unneeded temp files.

4. Download, install, and run MalwareBytes. Keep it up-to-date and run a scan about once a month.

5. Download, install, and run SpyBot Search & Destroy. Keep it up-to-date.

6. Download, install, and run Spyware Blaster, and keep it up-to-date.

7. If you're using Internet Explorer, make sure it's up-to-date. In IE, go to Tools > Windows Update

8. Make sure Adobe Flash is up-to-date:

9. Make sure Adobe Reader is up-to-date.

10. If you're using Firefox (I highly recommend it over IE), make sure you have the latest version. In Firefox, select Help > Check For Updates.

11. If your computer is a laptop that you use on public networks--libraries, McDonalds, Borders, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, airports, etc.--make sure the Windows Firewall is turned on. (At home, your router probably has a hardware firewall, but it doesn't hurt to have the Windows Firewall on all the time.) For extra security, download and install Zone Alarm. Be aware that if you use Zone Alarm on a home network with more than one computer, you may need to tweak some of the settings, especially if you have computers that are running different operating systems.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Science is once again vindicated!

It took almost two whole working days, but the most troublesome of the public desktop computers is whole, minus a functioning DVD drive. But that can wait; very few patrons use it, and I have an external USB drive on order in case someone does need it.

The computer is an IBM Lenovo, and it comes with an impressive suite of tools for diagnosing and recovering from problems, including a refresh function that clears the hard drive and reinstalls the operating system as it was when you first took the machine out of the box. It also comes with several levels of security and passwords, far more appropriate for a 100-computer enterprise installation than for a small public library. One of the passwords had been set, and I couldn't get past it to get to the refresh function. Over the years that the machine has been in service, it had acquired a lot of ...shall we say... quirks, and it had finally reached the point of being essentially unusable.

It took me all of Tuesday to figure out how to bypass or disable the password protection that was preventing me from initiating the refresh function, and it turned out to be relatively simple and obvious: uninstall and reinstall the program that uses the password. But first I made a set of six recovery CDs from another, identical machine, thinking that I would take them to the sick machine, boot off of them, and refresh Windows XP from the CDs, only to find out that the DVD/CD drive on the sick machine was no longer responsive. I know it used to work, because several months ago I had booted the same machine from a LiveCD for Ubuntu 9.04, and it ran like that for several days before one patron absolutely had to use MS Word.

In retrospect, even if the DVD drive were working, I probably would have found that the recovery CDs only worked in the machine that they were made on. So in the end, I reinstalled the password-protected program from a flash drive, and finally brought the machine back to its pristine "out of the box" condition. After many updates and reboots, it was back to XP Service Pack 3. And that was the end of Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning the machine was ready to be set up with our standard configuration of applications, printer drivers, and anti-virus programs, all of which are delivered on CD. And the optical drive wasn't working. I have a 4GB flash drive, so I copied the contents of each of the install CDs to separate folders on my flash drive and found, much to my surprise, the applications installed from the flash drive just as easily as they would have off the CDs, and probably much faster, even the installs that required a key. So my next question is, why don't vendors offer to deliver applications on flash drives? No CD or DVD to scratch, or break, or get dirty. It seems like the perfect delivery medium. Better still, let me download it from your website in a format that can go onto a flash drive, instead of making me burn a CD.

Many thanks to http://www.bleepingcomputer.com, http://forums.lenovo.com/, and http://www-307.ibm.com/. The Lenovo and IBM websites tend to be a little dense, with long convoluted troubleshooting paths and nested dependencies, but no more so than Microsoft's online help. Bleeping Computer is an invaluable free resource, and many thanks to Bob, who told me about it when I first got into the computer technician game.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Solo Car Commuter Satisfaction

This is a little survey of no academic value whatsoever, but designed only to satisfy a long-standing curiosity on a subject that has been near and dear to my heart for many years. It may have just a tiny bit of social value. I would like to know how much various factors contribute to your satisfaction, or lack thereof, with your daily commute to work by car. If you already walk, ride a bike, car pool, or take public transportation, good on you! Right now I'm only interested in people who drive to and from work alone.

This survey is entirely anonymous. I will not ask for your name, your title, your place of work, or your IP address. A summary of the results and my random conclusions will be posted on my blog, http://firstgentrekkie.blogspot.com, whenever I finally get around to it.

Thank you for you assistance!


Friday, June 11, 2010

Friday Music Video selection

Wireless networks not detected

Laptop23 was the last of the three laptops that the gaming teens screwed up. It would not connect to the wireless network, even though the bubble popped out of the system tray that says "one or more wireless networks are in range." When I clicked on the bubble, XP said no wireless networks were detected. The hardware was okay, because when I rebooted it with an Ubuntu LiveCD, it worked fine. After several dead ends, the search term "wireless networks not detected windows xp" turned up the following suggestion:

TCP/IP stack repair options for use with Windows XP with SP2.

Start, Run, CMD to open a command prompt.

Reset WINSOCK entries to installation defaults: netsh winsock reset catalog

Reset TCP/IP stack to installation defaults. netsh int ip reset reset.log

Reboot the machine.

And it worked!

Hooray for Teh Interwebs! Hooray for http://www.techsupportforum.com/

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Last veteran of The Great Escape

Jack Harrison, thought to be the last survivor of Stalag Luft III, the home of one of the most audacious, ambitious P.O.W. escapes of World War II, has died at the age of 97. The Great Escape was immortalized in the book by Paul Brickhill and the movie starring Steve McQueen, James Garner, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, John Leyton, David McCallum, Richard Attenborough, Gordon Jackson, Donald Pleasance--and those are just the names I remember off the top of my head. Both the book and the movie made a huge impression on my young self. Although the accounts of forging papers and turning uniforms into civilian clothing were of great interest, I was most impressed with the manufacture of the tunnels and their infrastructure--the shoring up, the surveying, the trolley system, and the air circulating system. In hindsight I wonder if that's why I went to engineering school.