Saturday, July 26, 2008

Geeky repair - Fax fix on WindowsXP

We had to send an international fax of a Microsoft Word document. I tried to use the File-Print and File-Send-Fax menu options and neither was kicking off connecting to the fax modem on the computer. I had a feeling that I was missing a faxing software, so I looked on the web for some freeware. When doing so, I figured, the fax services are not automatically enabled in Windows XP, and we had to first enable it for any fax software to work. The way to do this is as follows:
  1. Invoke Control Panel from Start menu, then go to Add/Remove Programs
  2. Click on Add WIndows Components on the left. That gives you a dialog with Fax Services check box.
  3. Tick the box by clicking it, and press Next. This should install the files necessary for fax services, and may ask for the Windows XP CD.
However, in my case it gave an error message that it is not able to find fxsapi file on ther CD (in the D:/i386 directory), though I could see it there. First, I tried downloading the fxsapi.dll file from the web and tried again. However, that only gives you another file missing - this time fxsclnt. That was not the fix, as you could take forever doing this for all fxs files it complains as missing. Browsing a bit more, I found the real fix was to clean up the system security log in %SYSTEMROOT% directory (which is usually (C:\Windows\System32\Security). The following link from Microsoft explains the procedure: Notice that it leads to this link for the actual fix:

The link I need to thank for identifying this fix:

Once I applied this fix, the fax services was installed. It also asked for the Microsoft Office software CD, but that went smooth, so finally the fax services started working (we never sent the fax after all this, but that was for another reason).

I was amazed and frustrated that something like this would require a complex unrelated security fix such as above. Let's just be happy other devices like TV, phones, DVD players are not as complex as a PC or Windows XP.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Geeky Repair - PC

In a prior blog, I wrote about my experience on assembling my own PC. Well, affter 5 years, it suddenly went down. No warnings, nothing unusual, and my wife had just browsed a few minutes back. The family badly wanted me to bring it back to life - guess it had become part of the family!

Since nothing was working, not even the fans, no beeps from boot, the easy suspect was the power supply. I was still taking a chance, but I wrote down the specs of the old power supply to find a new one at Fry's. It turned out the power supply boxes were at a minimum $25. I was a bit surprised, because I didn't remember spending so much the previous time around. Looking around in the same aisle, I noticed a lot of chassis, and some of them had power supply included. The minimum was $34, including the power supply. I felt it was better to get a new chassis, paying just $10 extra. Two motivations that led to my thinking:
  1. it covers me, in case the problem was a loose connection on the old chassis, and
  2. the black color matched my monitor, and it would be a nice upgrade.

It took me a couple of hours to unscrew the motherboard, hard disk and fans from the old chassis and screw them back on the new chassis. In the process I discovered how much I had forgotten - I almost scratched the motherboard to death. Gladly, the new setup worked, and our PC was back running. Decent $34 upgrade over the weekend,and we are all one happy family again!

Monday, July 21, 2008

Visit to Deutschland

Last week I made my first business visit to Germany, or Deutschland in german, or Allemagne in french. Much of the three days was travel, and I got spend just one day in the town of Kronach, near Nuremberg (or Nurnburg). Still, there is shocking stuff to write home about.

First, Frankfurt airport was shockingly convoluted, and I wouldn't advise even a transit for the uninitiated and non-adventurous. We got off the plane somewhere out near the runway, and boarded a crowded bus, which took us to a terminal (I think terminal D). One would think it leads us to baggage claim and immigration, but that wasn't quite the case. What seemed to matter was the gate numbers. Some gate numbers lead you to immigration counters and others don't. My follow-on flight to Nuremberg was in terminal A, gate 4, and following the directions was quite a challenge. I had to go up an escalator, then through immigration counters, then take elevators down some 3 floors, cross a long underground walkway to get to terminal A, then take elevators up some 3 floors, pass security checks and then to the gate. The security check was too complex and weird - one friend told me he almost got a massage! The guy felt all over, and asked to see my passport that was in my pant pockets. Then he asked me to take off my belt, and put it back through the X-ray machine. And, my shoes on a different X-ray machine. Enough to confuse me, that I forgot to take my belt, and came back after almost reaching my gate. Interestingly, there was no immigration or customs form to fill out on the plane - they just stamped my passport on arrival and departure.

Then came the Euro shock - a small bottle of spring water was 2 Euros. I handed over a $20 bill and the cashier said it was 11 Euros (almost half in value!), and gave me back 9 Euros change.

Then came the language shock! The bottle read "Naturaliche Springwasser", which I thought would mean Natural Springwater, and there was no indication it was carbonated. Turned out it was carbonated sparkling water. Even at other times in restaurant and business office, I was served sparkling carbonated water. Later I learnt that we have to ask for "still" water to get normal spring water.

The drive from Nuremberg to the town of Kronach was pretty scenic. The weather was cloudy with light shower, so it was perfect for a pleasant drive. It kind of felt like typical Oregon weather and landscape. I don't know if it was an "auto bahn" highway, but cars were zooming at high speeds like 150km/hr. This is really the place to drive those german cars like BMW. The lanes are a bit narrow and trucks came a bit close to our side, and yet traffic was so fast.

Kronach was a small town, and looked pretty historic. Surprisingly, there was a Chinese restaurant in this town, and I had a good dinner with rice & vegetables. It was interesting to note the enterprising Chinese restaurant manager and his 6-year old kid spoke german very well, but not much english. We stayed at Hotel Sonne, which seemed to exist since 1800s. The rooms had pretty old furniture from the olden days, though it was pretty clean and cheap at 46 Euros (USD 75) per night. The restroom was extra small, though neatly designed - it was the size of a closet or bath tub area that had a shower stall, wash basin and a toilet seat fit in. There were other rooms smaller or bigger, so it really depends on what you get. There was phone connection but no Internet or WiFi, and the hotel manager didn't speak much English, which made it difficult to ask anything. But I had to ask for an adapter for my laptop, and he made a great effort to find me one, which spoke volumes of hospitality. There was a nice complimentary breakfast included as well.

The next day we finished our business in Kronach. The folks we visited spoke fluent English, and that made it a lot easier to get things done. In the evening, we headed to Nuremberg, where we stayed at the Sheraton. Great hotel, big change from previous night at Kronach, and not so expensive at 95 Euros (or USD 155), but there was a charge for Internet service like 12 Euros minimum, which I thought was too much. They also wouldn't lend me an adapter, but would only sell me one for 8 Euros, which was in stark contrast with the previous night country side hospitality.

We headed back to Nuremberg airport the next day, back to Frankfurt and back to the US.
Food on Lufthansa was just enough and barely met vegetarian expectations in quantity and quality - but, better than what United offered on my other trips. I slept all along, catching glimpses of Oregon Klamath area and Northern California towards the end of the trip.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Shasta Lake Trip

We covered the Shasta Lake area on the day following our crater lake trip (see previous blog)

Waking up at Redding: Since the family was tired from previous day roundtrip to Crater Lake, everyone woke up late around 8:30 in the morning. By the time we got ready, it was 10
:10, and we missed the complimentary sumptuous Best Western breakfast buffet that closes at 10:00. But, we couldn't miss breakfast altogether, so we first headed to Denny's and paid $30 - so much for a 10 minute slip! We got on 5N, and after a 10 mile drive we got to to the visitor center. While I knew I could cover the Shasta Dam and Shasta Caverns the same day, I was just curious if I could also go to the McArthur-Burney Falls. The ranger told me it was about 70 miles east on highway 299 east, and that basically meant it would have to be another day, another time.

Shasta Caverns: So, I got back on 5N, and got out the on exit 695, which was the Shasta Caverns exit. The road winds a bit and ends up at the ticketing center where the tour starts. The ticket was $20 per adult and $12 for children. The first part was a ferry boat ride to get across the lak
e to another point. A series of winding steps down, and a short muddy trail leads to the boat. We carefully made it down, and waited for the next boat to take us in. The boats leave every half hour. Once we crossed over the lake to the other point, there was a bus waiting to take us to the caverns. It's a short 10 minute ride uphill, but the road is narrow and steep on the side, which makes it a bit scary. The bus driver said, "This is my first day on the job", adding to the anxiety and humor! When he asked where we were from, there was a large group that answered "Iran", and his response was "Welcome to America"! It was very funny - if you are wondering why, read up on current political situation between the US and Iran. The bus got us to a cabin, which is at the entrance to the cavern. Because of the elevation, you get some pretty good views of Lake Shasta from the bus and this cabin. A small door opens up a dim lit tunnel, and this leads up to the cavern.This tunnel was apparently dug much later than when the caverns were discovered in 1850s - the original discoverers had to crawl through openings to get inside. There is a huge stair case with close to 100 steps, and we had to climb at least 20 of them to get to the various chambers within the cavern. Inside, you get to see the exotic natural limestone formations (stalactites and stalagmites). We saw a couple of chambers and then came back to the cabin, as we were slow with 4-year olds and no way they or my dad could have managed 80 more steps. Once the group completed the tour, we headed back by bus and the boat ride. Climbing back to the ticketing center would have been a challenge, but we didn't have to do it since they had a bus that could take some of us up. That concluded our Shasta caverns part of our trip, which took a total of 2 hours from the time we left Denny's.

Shasta Dam: Tracing our way back from Shasta caverns roa
d, we got on to highway 5, heading south toward Redding. The Shasta Dam road or highway 151 is on exit 685. After about 7 miles west, we could see the dam and the parking lot. We parked, took a peek inside the visitor center that had all the history, statistics and such good stuff. What caught my eye was the comparison with Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty - the dam was 3 times taller at about 640 feet. Since we were a little late to the official tours that walk us inside, and explains how all of this works (the last one leaves at 3:30 pm), we had to settle for outside views. From the site, we could see several forest fires (actually the smoke from the fires). We took some pictures and headed back to the car around 4pm.

Drive back home: We grabbed a bite at a Taco Bell in Redding, and continued on 5S all the way to bypass 505 with one stop at a starbucks in Corning (I think). On highway 505, we noticed a guy scrambling to pick up stuff that had fallen from his car and scattered on the highway and putting them back into his trunk. It would have been sure death on most highways, but since this was a bit isolated, people could notice and slow down and he could manage the scramble. We continued to 80W, and then to 680S, and survived the strong winds on the stretch until Benicia bridge. Once we reached Walnut Creek, it was around 8:15 PM, and we decided to have dinner, or risk the children dozing off hungry. We spent some 20 minutes searching for an Indian restaurant, and finally found an one on Main street called Breads of India. Short menu that met our needs, but the food didn't excite the family. It was another forty minutes drive back home, and there was a nasty surprise waiting for us! The sprinklers were running in the backyard for we don't know how long! The auto shut-off had failed, though the darn thing turned on sometime one of the evenings! I think it only failed that evening, since it was only flooded so much, but we'll know when this month's water bill comes in!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Crater Lake Trip

We went up to Crater Lake National Park and the Shasta Lake National Recreation area over the July 4th holidays. Some key highlights & lowlights of the trip below.

From San Jose to Redding: We left San Jose around 3pm, took the 680 freeway heading to 80E. The route was 680N-80E-505-5N. As I drove through the Benicia bridge toll plaza on 680, it
got a bit confusing with lanes splitting into three - Fast Trak pass, Carpool and Cash. I took the carpool lane, since we had enough people in the car and it was carpool hours, but wasn't sure if it meant Fast Trak carpool or any carpool. There were cameras, so I guess I will know if I was wrong in a few weeks! The stretch between Benicia and freeway 80 has always had strong winds every time I have driven through, enough to feel the car sway. Not sure why, but I guess everyone survives, so it doesn't matter. After reaching Vacaville on 80, we took the bypass freeway 505 to get on 5N. This was the first time I have taken 505 - it is pretty quiet and fairly dry landscape. We reached the junction of 5 and 505 around 5:30pm, and stopped at the Pilot travel center to grab a bite. Another couple of hours drive, we were in Redding, which is the closest city just before Shasta Trinity National Recreation area.

In Redding: I had booked a room at the Best Western Inn on Hiltop Drive. Wasn't too impressed - they gave me a non-smoking room, but it was clear someone had been smoking inside before. It was obvious now why they took a signature during check-in, that if they smell smoke in a non-smoking room after check-out, there would be a special air clean-up charge - clearly, they have had this problem for a while.
The hotel manager sent someone to throw some perfume, but it only helped little. It wasn't easy to move with the family, so I just settled in, giving them the benefit of doubt that it could be the smoke from the forest fires going around (I later heard there were 1000 of them, and fire-fighters managed to bring it down to 800 thus far!). The saving grace was the good breakfast, with the wide choice of oatmeal, breads, fruit, and full service grill. Any case, the smoke wasn't worth $130 a night, so I simply decided never to book a Best western again. We had dinner at Priya's Indian cuisine on Churn Creek Ave, and that turned out not as exciting as well.

Redding to Crater Lake: Thursday morning around 9:30, we left Redding. The drive up 5N goes through Shasta, and is pretty scenic. After about an hour, we saw Mt Shasta towering over 14,000 feet. It was pretty dry now, with some precipitation just at the top. I ha
ve been there in May once before, when it is mostly wrapped in snow. The Google map asked me to take US-97 highway to Klamath Falls, and then take OR-62 that leads to Crater Lake. So, we forked off to US-97 at this small town called Weed. The drive on US-97 was extemely quiet, patches of water and green, with almost no traffic, and the only civilization was some remote motels appearing once in a while. I learned some thing new - this was one of the "All American Road", which is a federal designation for certain roads less traveled but have tourist potential due to scenic, cultural or historical interest. The motels look dilapidated and makes you wonder if it was a thing of the past or if it is still functioning. After a hour and and half drive on US-97, I saw a visitor center and stopped by to ask if I was indeed on the right track. The ranger gave me the good news that I am indeed on track, as well the bad news that I am still another hour and half away from Crater Lake! We crossed the small town of Klamath Falls, and headed towards Modoc point. The road got pretty interesting and a bit scary here with the huge Upper Klamath Lake to the left, seemingly threatening to spill over and flood the road, and a mountain a few miles out in front, that made me wonder if there is even a road once I reach the intersection of the mountain and the lake. Finally, we saw signs indicating Crater Lake and leading us to OR-62 highway. We took a left on OR-62, and the route was a bit more scenic with the typical tall conifers of Oregon. Parts of OR-62 and US-97 comprise the "Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway". Another 40 miles on OR-62, and we reached Crater Lake National Park.

Inside Crater Lake National Park: There is a restaurant just before the park entrance. It is better to get lunch here. There is a cafe inside the park with limited options (the ranger at the visitor center told me there is a restaurant in the lodge, I couldn't find it, but I could be mistaken). We paid the fee ($10 per car), and drove another 7 miles to get to the lake. We saw some precipitation as it was now about 7000 feet elevation, and stopped to take some pictures on the snow. As I was about to park, there was this idiot driver in front, who just passed the spot, but hurriedly backed up to regain his spot! I honked, but I think it didn't ring in his ears, and before I could react backing up, he was almost there. I gave him a stare and passed on to find ample parking space just a few feet down. By this time, we were very hungry, so the first thing on our mind was lunch, though we caught a glimpse of the lake as we drove into the parking lot. We settled for pita sandwiches at the Rim Cafe, and then walked up to the rim of the lake. The view was well worth every mile we drove the last 3.5 hours. We took some pictures, and drove around the rim to another viewpoint (called Discovery point) at a slightly higher elevation, and took more pictures. It is possible to drive around the entire 35 miles around the rim, but we had to trade-off with little ones in the car that might get impatient.

Heading back to Redding: As we headed out of Crater Lake, I made up my mind not to drive through Klamath Falls again, but take OR-62 towards Medford, where it meets Hwy 5. This was a pretty good decision, as it is pretty scenic as the road goes along parts of the Rogue River white waters, and there is more civilzation or greenery than the US-97 route. Once we got to Medford, we took 5S, heading back to California. It was pretty scenic going through the mountains, but there was also smoke from the forest fires. I was juggling between driving uphill and keeping the air conditioner switched on to filter out the smoke. We passed Yreka, another historic town, and got back to Weed, where we had originally forked off on US-97. We continued on 5S, catching another glimpse of Mt Shasta, and headed back to our lodge in Redding.

Though it was a lot of driving, it was a fulfilling and memorable experience. We had a good sleep, that refreshed us for the Shasta trip the following day.