Friday, March 28, 2014

Helluva First Year

Today is Christopher Byrne V's first birthday.

It's been a helluva a year.

He's gone from 6 lbs, 15.8 oz and 18 inches long to 25 lbs and 34 inches long. He can now reach the kitchen table, kitchen counters, pretty much half of everything in the house.

He's extremely social, generally happy (there's a reason we call him Happy Boy), and crawling. He's almost standing and could walk if he wanted to, but he finds crawling to be faster. He can also climb though. He's become a master of getting on and off of the couch. He also has a fascination with crawling out the doggie door and exploring the outdoors.

He's got engineer brain. Toys aren't near as interesting as normal everyday adult items, which he tries to figure out how to manipulate constantly. His curiosity is endless. He's turning his mother's hair gray with his adventures and lack of fear.

He's already showing a distinct personality. Happy-go-lucky, intent, determined, generally calm. He already has his own taste in music (metal, old school hip hop, classic rock) and a favorite movie (Chitty Chitty Bang Bang).

He's extremely easy to feed. He took to feeding himself very early and will try anything... provided it comes off of an adult's plate or a serving platter. He's tried everything from the standard hamburgers and pasta to prime rib, fried clam bellies, Japanese, Thai, Italian, Mexican, New Mexican, and barbecue (in Memphis no less).

This child has lived in 3 different states, traveled to and through 25 more, and logged over 10k miles of road time. He's traveled more and tried more cuisines than many adults I know.

He's met countless family members, spent holidays with both grandfathers and two great-grandmothers, and spent tons of time with family friends. He's also pick up a surrogate grandmother (since both genetic grandmothers have passed) and is about to pick up a step-grandmother.

This kid's been around and been busy his entire life. He's brought joy to everyone around him and delighted people we know and strangers alike.

We're extremely lucky to have him.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Chris's grandmother passed away early this morning

Theresa Byrne passed away at 3:15 am EST after a series of major strokes.

Please keep the family in your prayers.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bad owners make for bad outcomes, but so do bad caregivers

Today Jennifer posted about a tough case concerning euthanizing a pit bull.

The details of the issue are over there. I happen to agree with her that yes, that particularly pit bull should be put down because of the extreme aggression he showed towards that boy. A dog who mauls the face of a 4-year-old is probably not going to be rehabilitated and in the mean time is a threat to those who would even attempt.

Is it the dog's fault? No. Does it still need to happen? Yes.

That being said... let's go into exactly WHO is at fault here.

It's certainly not the boy, who is too young to fully understand why what he did was dangerous.

It's not the dog, who followed a mixture of instincts and training.

Everyone KNOWS by now to blame the owner for lack of training, bad socialization, being a horrible human being, etc. They're certainly to blame for the dog's behavior.

However, in this particular instance there is someone else who is at fault.

There's the parents, for not at least somewhat teaching the child how to deal with pets, though given how little he was who knows how much of it would stick yet. However, their fault pales in comparison to...


This is obviously a rather extreme example of negligence but I see a much more subtle form of her assumptions on a continuing basis.

There is no such thing as a completely child-safe dog.

Let me repeat that:

There is no such thing as a completely child-safe dog.

I don't care how wonderful Muffin is with children. Muffin has a bad day, is in pain, is exhausted, or someone finds her particular button to push and Muffin is just as capable of biting a child as any other dog.

Let me give you an example.

The Boy is now crawling around the house. We still have two dogs, Jayne and Zoe. Jayne is 130 lbs of Staffordshire/ Rottweiler mix and Zoe is 55 lbs of Rottweiler/ Coonhound mix. Both of them are generally good with kids, our kids, other people's kids, doesn't matter. They've repeatedly shown the ability to handle everything from toddler on up.

Zoe spoils the boy. She lets him crawl on her, hug her, pull her tail, treat her like an obstacle course... she takes all of it. Unless he pulls her ears. Then it's game over. She runs off.

Jayne, having figured out early that baby hands mean poking and prodding, generally avoids the boy. He's not mean about it, he'd just rather not be within reach of those hands. He either moves, or, if he's on his doggie bed, will give a nice loud single bark which never fails to make the baby stop his forward progress (and also ends in screaming on the baby's part, but that just means it's effective).

Sometimes though when either dog tries to escape the kiddo gets it in his head to follow and continue his pestering. This is where things get hairy.

Half the time the dogs will run to me for protection. The other half is when the growling starts.

It's my job as the caregiver to make sure the growling never happens. The dogs have already clearly defined their boundaries for the boy, it's my job to make sure he respects them. Why?

Because I'm the adult damnit.

I'm slowly teaching the kiddo what not to do around dogs, but he's little and doesn't have experience or impulse control. Every moment he spends around the dogs needs to be supervised. That will last until he's old enough to have gotten enough experience with THESE dogs to understand what is okay and what isn't okay.

Notice I make a differentiation between these dogs and other dogs. That's because I don't know anyone else's dogs well enough to leave my child anywhere near unsupervised while he's around them.

It's also my responsibility to teach my children enough about how to deal with strange animals so they don't do something stupid that gets them injured.

Over the summer I heard Jayne barking really intensely in the back yard. I went out to see what was happening.

I found a group of boys throwing rocks at him from the other side of the fence.

It's a testament to Jayne's extreme laziness and inability to jump even a 4 foot fence that these boys were unscathed. Well, that's before I lit into them about how dangerous and cruel what they were doing was, and how with any other dog it might get them killed.

Jayne was still wagging his tail, God bless 'em. If he'd been another dog with a lower pain tolerance and capable of jumping the fence he'd already have been put down.

(I never caught them doing it again, and I watched for it to happen.)

So what could have prevented this mauling in the first place?

1. Training and socializing the dog properly.
2. Training the child properly to deal with unfamiliar animals, i.e. don't approach dogs you don't know without the owner handling the introduction.
3. Properly supervising the child in case their impulse control and judgment skills are not adequate.

If any one of these had happened no one would be debating whether or not to euthanize the dog, and that poor boy wouldn't be scarred for life at 4 years old.

It's not the dog's fault or the boy's fault, but they're both suffering for the stupidity of those in charge of them.


Saturday, March 15, 2014

A little computer advice

Being an IT professional, I get asked for computer advice a lot. The most frequent questions I'm asked by the "average user" are "why is windows 8 so horrible", "how do I fix this virus I've got on my computer" and "what computer should I buy".

I have lots of answers to why Windows 8 is awful, but none of them will help most folks, except my one suggestion: Download a program called Classic Shell. It's free, it's a 30 second download, and it makes Windows 8 suck FAR less.

The virus thing... 

Well... I'll illustrate the issue with an anecdote...

I took a family friend on as an emergency client. They home school, and the system they use for homeschooling was well hosed up, to the point where it was completely unusable. It would boot, but applications and web pages wouldn't load, it would reboot randomly etc...

I looked at it... No exaggeration, there were over 6,000 individual pieces of malware, spyware, adware... and that's with 4 different AV/adware/spyware/anti-malware packages running, including the commercial and updated norton 360. They also had 4 different "system optimizer" or "system cleaner" packages running, and god knows how much other "helpful" garbage.

He asked what I charged and I said "I'm doing this as a family friend, because to clean this up... Labor alone would be more than you make in two weeks. It's going to take me at least two full days. It'd be faster to wipe it and start over but you don't have backups or install disks for a bunch of this stuff. Even then, I really recommend wiping it when you get the chance, because I might have missed something.

And yes, it did take two full days... actually more than. I actually put over 20 hours into cleaning the system up, then rebuilding it to a consistent and usable state, then locking it down and putting tools in place to... I wish I could say prevent, but it's a windows machine so I can only say reduce the likelihood... of that sort of thing ever happening again.

Just so he would understand and appreciate the amount of work involved, and what that kind of work costs, I printed him up an invoice, with a 100% discount. Yes, it was more than he made in two weeks. He just about crapped his pants.

So, my advice on the virus thing is this... Wipe the machine completely, and install from scratch. If you can't do that yourself, donate the machine or give it to a smart kid who can, and buy a new one. It'll be cheaper and easier for you.

Oh and NEVER EVER EVER EVER buy or install norton, or mcaffee, or frankly any of the major vendors anti-virus, "security suite" or software "firewall" packages, and never buy or install a "system cleaner" (except piriforms ccleaner aka crap cleaner, which I install on every windows machine automatically). If they come on your computer from the factory, clean them off completely before you try to run anything. They are actively harmful.

For anti-malware, use windows security essentials, and comodo, AVG, Avast, or malwarebytes as a secondary scanner, and run Winpatrol to keep control of your computers settings and startup programs etc...

In general, don't be an idiot. Don't download anything, or open attachments or web pages, you don't know, or are not well known and trusted sources etc... etc... Virus scan everything before you open it, and turn on live virus scanning in your security software.

Oh and NEVER load or use a browser toolbar of any kind, unless you are absolutely sure you want to use it, exactly what it does and who it came from.

Most importantly, always live behind a physical firewall. Never expose a windows machine to the bare internet, no matter what kind of software "firewall" you have running (software firewalls don't protect you worth a damn. Also they shouldn't be called firewalls, because they aren't). You WILL be compromised, within minutes, without question.

That just leaves buying a computer...

This is where things get more interesting.

Now, if you're looking for a desktop, the answer is pretty simple: if you plan on keeping it more than a year, buy the second best CPU, most ram, and best monitor you can afford.

If you can change out your own hardware when it breaks, brand doesn't matter. If you can't, buy an HP (seriously, don't even think about buying other brands of desktop unless you can support them yourself).

For a laptop... it's a hell of a lot more complicated and involved. Of course, most people only buy laptops these days, leaving a lot of folks having no idea what to buy or how to decide, and no resources available to them to help.

So mostly, they end up buying on price, and buzzwords, and mostly they end up unhappy. There are some very good reasons why laptop shipments have been trending way down the last couple years, and the much simpler and more user friendly tablet has been taking over as peoples casual computing device.

As it happens, in the last few weeks, I've had about a dozen people ask for my advice on buying a laptop. Also, I've ended up buying (as presents, as replacements, for projects etc...) six laptops in the last four months.

Since it IS one of my most frequently asked questions, I've given all of this advice many times before... in fact so many times I went through writing it all down to send to folks or post on forums, but I'd never bothered to post it here. Someone asked again tonight, so I decided to post my little guide on the blog.

Ok, here's my basic question list:

  1. How portable/light/small do you need/want it to be? Will you be travelling with it more than a couple times a year?
  2.  How long do you plan on keeping/using the machine
  3.  How big a screen do you want?
  4.  Do you want an optical drive? If so, DVD or BluRay drive? Is an external drive acceptable?
  5.  Since you can run MacOs, Windows, and Linux on one, is a Mac acceptable?
  6.  Are you going to be doing any non-casual gaming on the system
  7.  Are you going to run any engineering graphics or calculation packages
  8.  Will you be running any large spreadsheets, desktop publishing, design etc...
  9.  Will this be your primary computer
  10.  Will this be your primary digital device for consuming rich media (music, video etc...)

Prioritize the following for me:

- Performance
- Cost
- Ruggedness and durability
- Portability and light weight

The answers to these questions, along with some general guidelines (below) pretty much determine what machine to buy.

A word on Mac's

If you don't mind the cost, MacBook Pros are simply physically better machines than all but the highest end windows machines (which actually cost as much or more), and they can run MacOS, Linux, and Windows natively. I HIGHLY recommend them for anyone who intends to keep a laptop for more than a year or two.

I live in the world of high end IT consultants, and high end security professionals, and unless our employers ban us from using them, almost all of us use MacbookPro's (whether we run OSX on them or not). I personally run OSX, several versions of windows, and several linux distros on mine, in both multiboot mode, and as virtual machines.

Really, they are just PHYSICALLY, so much better than all but the highest end windows machines, as to be in a class almost by themselves.

Let me illustrate what I mean...

A typical windows laptop might last me a year... I've had them die in just a few months. I've NEVER had one last more than two years of hard use. They just get loose and creaky, get unreliable, lose performance no matter how clean you keep them software wise... or they just plain die, with hard use.

My macbook pros?

Well, I've been running my current 15" MBP for almost exactly 3 years, it's still in 100% shape, it's still faster than most machines out there (quad i7, 1gb discrete graphics, 500gb SSD and 16gb ram). I really have no need, and no desire to upgrade.

So please, take my advice here... if you use your laptop seriously, and do any kind of travel with it more than a couple times a year, consider an MBP, even if you aren't a mac user.

These are my general recommendations:

As of right now, I wouldn't buy anything less than a core i5 in a general purpose laptop, unless I was looking to minimize power consumption to the extreme, or looking to spend under $400 (which means a machine only good for facebook and email). The miniscule price difference isn't worth the major performance hit.

I will not use a current AMD CPU/APU for anything other than the cheapest possible facebook and web browsing machine. Multi-GHZ Quad core machines shouldn't be at 100% cpu just watching youtube. They're garbage now, as general purpose systems and graphics processors (their high end GPUs are still great, and they do some interesting things in distributed computing, low power computing, and other specialized tasks).

If you don't want an optical drive, or don't care if your optical drive is external, and don't need a 17" display, get an ultrabook (preferably an aluminum or composite one, unless your budget won't cover it).

I always recommend SSD's highly, for everyone, even if they don't care about performance. If you need more than 400-600gb in your machine and SSD prices for this size range are prohibitive for you, I strongly recommend a hybrid SSD ($95 for a 1tb hybrid drive).

Let me be clear: Once you have more than the absolute minimum amount of RAM necessary to perform well, the single biggest thing you can do to improve your machines performance is to use an SSD. The difference is night and day, such that I will never willingly use anything other than an SSD or at the very least a hybrid drive, ever again.

I STRONGLY recommend a minimum of 8gb of RAM for windows 8, for any heavy work, or for lots of multitasking. 4gb is barely livable for Windows 8 and what I consider the real minimum for windows 7. 16gb is preferable for any kind of heavy use, multitasking, or running virtual machines. 32gb is WAY overpriced and most machines don't physically support anyway.

If you plan on keeping it more than 2 years, if a metal or composite chassis model is available within reasonable reach of your budget, make that reach. Even if you have to go down in spec a bit to do it. You would not BELIEVE the difference in toughness, and just quality feel, you get from a stronger chassis based machine rather than a plastic clamshell.

As of right now, my primary vendor recommendations are as follows, in three tiers:

Tier 1

HP(high end, particularly high end business models)
Dell (high end, particularly high end business models)

Tier 2

HP (mid/low end models)
Dell (mid/low end models)
Lenovo (used to be tier 1, now I consider them tier 2)

Tier 3


The tiers I've grouped the vendors into correspond roughly to what I consider their "utility vector". A combination of design, features, quality, durability, CONSISTENCY, warranty, technical support, and customer service.

I wouldn't ever even consider laptops from other brands at this point.

If you're comfortable with handling your own support, and doing your own minor repairs, then feel free to buy from any of the brands I listed.

If you are going to need to use the vendor to make minor repairs though, I STRONGLY suggest you go with a Tier 1 vendor, and consider buying the 2 year full hardware replacement warranty (at least if you plan on keeping the machine that long; and presuming it costs no more than 25% the replacement cost of the machine of course).

HP, Apple, and Dell just handle this stuff better, IN GENERAL (there are always breakdowns and horror stories), than the other vendors.

The reason I rate MSI and ASUS as tier 3 (and why I downgraded Lenovo from Tier 1 to Tier 2), is because their overall experience is inconsistent. I've had great stuff from them, I've had garbage. I've had great experiences with their support, and I've had awful ones. Overall, I'd prefer to avoid them, unless they have a spectacular machine at a spectacular price.

If you plan on keeping it more than a year or two, I STRONGLY recommend buying a "business" line laptop, rather than a consumer laptop. They're generally better designed, and better put together, with slightly higher quality components. Also, they're almost always a lot easier to service when things DO go wrong.

At this point I only buy computers from Amazon, Costco, WalMart (for the really cheap low end semi-disposable machines), Frys Electronics (sometimes they have spectacular deals on discontinued models or refurbs), Newegg, or direct from the manufacturers website.

No matter how great you think a deal is, always check the manufacturers web site, because they often run pretty spectacular specials.

... And that's about it really. The market changes so quickly that I can't make any more specific recommendations than that.