Anchor Small Beer

I really like this beer. Anchor’s small beer is crisp, light, and refreshing, but also a bit bold in its bitterness. Brewed by remashing their barleywine mash, this ale presents a surprising amount of bitterness and a very pleasant, well-integrated aroma. It is a light gold in color, with a hint of amber, and carries a good amount of body for a ‘second pressing.’ Honestly, in taste, I feel that this ale stands awfully near the fence between ale and lager (especially czeck pilsners). That trait adds a very pleasant drinkability to the small beer. In fact, you might try offering one of these up to a Coors or Budweiser drinking friend in another failed attempt to help them improve the quality of their life by broadening their beer horizon. Or just save it for yourself. No harm done. I suppose that this probably isn’t the ideal winter beer, but come summer I hope to see your Camel Backs loaded full of this quenching liquid.

Windows Tips II – software roundup

Tons of people haven’t been asking me what software I run on my Windows boxen. This little ditty isn’t for them. Before jumping into recommendations, I should give you an idea of what I’m about when it comes to the software I run on my computer. As a Unix guy I have a strong appreciation for simple tools to solve simple problems, and are able to work alone or with other tools to solve (or create) complex problems. So, I’m big on open standards. I also like free software (as in beer). GNU-style, Linux-style. Open source is a beautiful thing. I’m definitely open to monolithic applications though, but they’d better offer a lot in terms of convenience, compatibility, security, or foot rubs.
So, what kinds of software do I use? Remember, this is windows, which I need for certain aspects of my work life, and that’s pretty much the extent of it (and need may be a little strong of a word). I use office software, security tools, ‘power-user’ tools, and some nifty other apps for fun and profit. Here’s a quick rundown of what I use, how I use it, and maybe why.

Office Software

  • OpenOffice. This is a full, free, and powerful suite of office applications. Included are word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and some sort of drawing package. Really really nice, check it out. You can even read almost anything from MS Office.
  • Thunderbird. OK, this is a bit of a stretch because I generally use the webmail client on my home PC for the work computer for technical reasons (my machine is not considered part of the network so mail from a client like Outlook or T-bird looks like spam), but Thunderbird is pretty nice. Evolution is great too, but I’m not sure they do it for windows (haven’t looked).
  • gvim. You probably don’t want to get involved with this unless you are a Unix type, but I like it. Check out Textpad as a text editor instead…it’s nice than NotePad and WordPad put together.

Security stuff

  • Ad-aware. This nifty little free package will scour your computer for nasties. Like viruses, worms, and evil daemons. Get it, run it frequently (pay for it to get the scheduler if you keep forgetting), keep it current.
  • AVG and Zone Alarm. I dunno, Norton, Window Security, whatever, just use something that will do firewall, antivirus, updates, and keep an eye on things in general. These are what my Windows admin friend recommended.

Power User Tools

  • X/Cygwin. This is a snappy package that does a few really really powerful things. It lets your windows machine be an X server (so you can run graphical unix programs remotely) and it also creates some emulation of a nice Unix environment, complete with all your favorites like perl, grep, and cat! It’s free and awesome!
  • VirtuaWin. This program creates a virtual desktop for you. Basically, instead of having everything in one window, you can spread them out among 1 (pointless) to 9 windows. I tried out several packages, and this is the one that comes closest to meeting my needs. These are: configurable hotkeys, nonobtrusive pager dealie, and no annoying whizbangs. Simple.
  • Windows Power Tools. This is something you can dig up at the Microsoft page. I haven’t explored it a lot, I just wanted an easy way to setup focus follows mouse. That way I don’t have to click a window to type in it. The real benefit to me is that I can leave something on top and type into something underneath it without it going away.
  • Putty. This simple tool let’s you ssh into other computers, which is a secure way to do login to machines in places where you are not, or that simply don’t have keyboards.

Cool Apps

  • The Gimp. This is like photoshop, but free. I think it works a little different, but it’s super-powerful and free. There’s a windows download on the site, but it’s not necessarily provided by them.
  • Knoppix. Not technically a windows app, or even Windows at all, this is a linux distrobution that boots from cd and has tons of tools to fix things when things hit the proverbial rotating blades.
  • Firefox. Cool browser, free, under current development, and better and more secure than the one you are probably using. I hear Opera is nice too, and relatively free now.

That’s about it. Check these tools out, I think you’ll be quite pleased. For the most part, they are as easy to use as the equivalent that you may or may not be using, but relatively free, adhering to open standards, and making me happy. In general you can read things from other software, and save things to be read by other software also.

Oh, and if you have any recommendations for iTunes sorta software, I’d love to hear them!

Elysian Night Owl Pumpkin Ale

Still dragging my feet on the fall ales, I pulled this one out of the ‘beer cellar’ this evening. Elysian has a knack for introducing interesting flavors into their ales without making them overbearing. This one tastes like a good pale ale with hints of pumpkin and pumpking spices rounding it out. Because of this, Elysian’s infusions work more to broaden beer horizons than to supply fraternities with pints with which to ply their ‘sisters’. The aroma here is subdued, a nice lightly hopped scent, not an overpowering nutmeg, which mostly makes itself known in the tail end of a swallow. The hue is a pleasant caramel…N tells me it’s like a burnt sienna crayon. The body is medium and bordering on creamy, strong enough to carry both the beer and the spices. I sense a mild smokiness as well, as I work my way towards the bottom of the glass. This is definitely a nice ale to enjoy in front of the fire on a crisp and cool night, so I think that I’ll return to doing that now. Overall, I’d say that if you’re not against the use of adjuncts this is a fine pumpkin ale, and look for it next fall, or if you’re lucky at some of your specialty shops. cheers!


and happy stinkin new year! Now go replace one bad habit with another.

Windows Tips I – users and security in XP

okay. I am not a Windows user. I am a Unix admin by trade (solaris/HP-UX/Linux), but whenever I go home I try to help my family out with their machines. It seems that everybody is running XP now, and I helped out with a few things.

Ryan got a new laptop. It’s a Dell running XP. Brand spankin new, and he wants to install all sorts of crap on it and, you know, connect it to the web and stuff. The internet is a dangerous place. There is a lot of malicious stuff, and one wrong move can change a computer forever. Really.

So a lot of people are running Norton this or Windows Security that, and that is great! Keep it up! The problem with these is that I believe the manufacturers or providers are being extremely irresponsible. They promote the belief that by running their software you will be absolutely safe. That is totally wrong.

How to be safer:

  • keep running Norton or Windows security or whatever. Make darn sure that you update it a lot. Some do it automatically, make sure that they are. Do it manually when you think of it anyway.
  • Be smart about your user accounts! I’m going to write more about this after this list, because this is the main point I want to get across here
  • Don’t trust websites or ads! Popups and banner ads are notorious. They pretend to be things they’re not, and the buttons usually don’t do what they say they’re going to do. By clicking on these, it is entirely possible that you are running arbitrary code on your computer or giving up information that you’d rather not give up. Click on the little ‘x’ in the top right corner of popups to close them.

Okay, more about users and permissions. One of the reasons that windows has classically been so much less secure than, say, Linux is that you do everything as the administrator or root user. With the more recent Windows releases (XP), this does not have to be the case. Unfortunately, it appears to me that out of the box systems are not configured this was. Nor is it emphasized or even explained that this might be a good idea.

How should I setup my computer to be safe? It’s not that tough. You need to create a new admin user, and you need to remove administrator rights from your everyday user. As your everyday user (who is probably an admin), go to the Control Panel, and choose user management.

  • Create a new user (admin works, or administrator, or root, or boss, or whatever you like) and give that user administrator access. Also, give that user a password. It doesn’t have to be complicated, and it doesn’t have to be different than your everyday user’s (but it should be).
  • Log out as yourself, then login as the user you created above.
  • Go back to the user administration thing in the control panel, and edit your everyday user. Remove administrator rights from that user.
  • Now, logout and log back in as your everyday user (we call this user a mortal user). Make sure your usual stuff works. If not, that sucks. There’s either a problem with my instructions, you, or your computer.

In case there’s a problem, just log back in as admin and give your mortal user administrator rights again. You’re no worse off than you were, but I’d recommend talking to somebody and figuring out wtf. Either that or create a new mortal account and only do risky things (email, browse, games, run software, chat, login, etc) as that user. Which is what I would do.

dangit, now it’s a pain to install software! Amazingly, this is by design. In fact, it’s the whole point of this exercise.

  • download the installer X as the mortal user (your admin may need to create a place on C: or D: or H: or wherever that the mortal user can write to).
  • go to Log Off and select Switch Users. Become admin.
  • Think to yourself, is this screensaver of little puppies coming from a safe place or is it going to open a hole to my computer the size of Crater Lake so that little hacker kids and store pr0n and pirated photoshop on it. Really.
  • install the software for all users to use.
  • Log off or switch users back to your mortal user, run the new software, and have fun!

Okay, I apologize for any misinformation, I am not a Windows guru. The concepts are simple: do risky things as a user who can’t modify the system significantly. If you handle really sensitive stuff, you may even want a third user who never does risky things either. Or a second computer.

Other things that are useful (look for a windows software roundup soon for more info): firewall. Most home routers have this functionality. It’s simple, easy, cheap, and it keeps the a-holes out. Get one and use it. ZoneAlarm is cool, it’s a firewall software and it tells you if things are trying to access the internet. It can be a pain, but it’s worth it. Ad-Aware rocks. It’s free, it’s easy, and it works wonders. Get it, use it, keep it updated, and keep on using it. It basically looks for worms/viruses/bad cookies/other malicious crap and removes it for you. I cannot emphasize enough…get it and use it.