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Thursday, February 23, 2006

February 23, 2006

Only Two Weeks...

Well, I managed to make it just over two weeks since my last post here -- things are getting better in that respect. smile

Things have finally started to slow down around here. Once the big One-Act trip is over, things really fall back into normal mode.

One-Act Stuff

As I noted in a previous post, we did the annual trip to the State One-Act Play Festival which is held at the College of St. Catherine in St. Paul. It's an excellent event where one literally gets immersed in all things (and styles of) theatre. I really enjoy the annual trip, and I'm fairly positive the students do as well. Besides, it gives me an excuse to go watch it myself.

This year's trip was different than in years past, namely because we were able to go see Les Miserables, which was on its final official tour at the Ordway Center in St. Paul. This turned a normally two-day event into a three-day deal, where we left Wednesday afternoon and returned Friday night. Les Mis was, as it's been in the past for me, an excellent production. The students were really impressed and had an excellent time. It was good to allow them the experience of seeing live professional theatre.

So One-Act is more or less done, with the exception of paying a few bills and distributing scrapbooks and whatnot. Another successful and fun year passes...

Toner Troubles

I couldn't find a mention of this in a previous post, but I've finally needed to replace my toner cartridge for the LaserJet 5MN. It started going out some time around Thanksgiving, so I did some looking around for a cheaper replacement. After all, I knew I wouldn't need to pay $90 for a new cartridge.

So, I did some research and found an online company specializing in reconditioned toner cartridges. Now, my previous experience in a previous job noted that reconditioned isn't a bad deal. Besides, I could get a reconditioned cartridge for about $35 (including shipping) rather than $90 for a new cartridge retail. I decided to go that route.

A few days later (3-5), it arrived via UPS as expected. As I didn't absolutely need to install it right away, I waited a few days. When I finally had the need to replace the cartridge, I did so. Upon printing the first few pages, things seemed to be alright. However, the print did seem a bit on the light order and appeared to fade a bit on the right-hand side of the printed page. I figured that it may be a fluke of the printer (due to the additional toner in the rollers and whatnot which occurred when the previous cartridge went out).

However, as I printed more and cleaned up the printer, the problem didn't go away. In fact, it got worse. MUCH worse. It essentially went from medium-dark on the left side of the page to barely readable on the right side (and in some instances, not visible at all). So, I was a bit perplexed and set all the settings I could (both on the printer and through the print drivers) to not print in economy mode and print dark. This really didn't solve the problem.

So, I did some more research on what this sort of a [print] pattern may mean. What I discovered is that it's a more common type of problem in the case of a reconditioned cartridge where the transfer drum doesn't hold a charge properly. So at least I had a cause.

I was a bit disappointed at this point in time; however, I'd paid less than $35 for a retail $90 part. You get what you pay for, right?

Well, as I don't print a great volume during the months of December and January (although I do print a fair amount) and since I'm not home as much during this time, I decided to just deal with it until closer to the end of One-Act. The company has a one-year guarantee on their products, so I wasn't in a rush to get it corrected.

When the end of One-Act arrived, I called the company (around the first of February) and explained the situation. I was courteously handled and was assured that they'd send a replacement (they even offered overnight service due to my trouble) immediately. I assured them that a standard three-day service would be sufficient. A few days passed, and as promised, the replacement cartridge showed up.

So, when I got home, I unpacked the replacement cartridge, ready and excited to try it out. Only, when I opened the box, I discovered that they'd send me the wrong cartrdige.

At this point in time I was quite disappointed and a bit upset. This was not a good track record for this company.

The next morning I called them and explained the situation. It turns out that a typographical error (a mistake on the ten-key) caused the wrong item to be printed on my packing receipt. I was apologized to by each representative I'd spoken with. They really handled the situation better than I expected. They offered me the same overnight service again, which I kindly declined. After all, I just wanted the damn cartridge to work. smile

Much to my surprise, they sent the good replacement by second-day air. I'm happy to report that this cartridge is performing exactly as it should and I actually need to turn back down the print quality (it's really dark).

After all of this hoopla, I'm fairly positive that they didn't make a dime off of me...or if they did, not much of a dime. They include return shipping via UPS, so they've sent me three cartridges (two of them via a more expensive means than ground), and are paying to send two cartridges back. But, they made things right and did so without issue or complaint, which is why I'm not naming the company here. I'm by no means upset with them (it was arguably a bit frustrating). I'd just wished I'd handled this sooner, knowing that their customer service was as friendly and speedy as it was. I put it off thinking I'd have to fight a bit to get all the stuff handled.

SPAM issues...

It's not from Hormel...and it's certainy not of a Pythonesque nature. It's that evil stuff by which junk email is frequently referred.

I had to take a fairly drastic measure in my constant battle with spam on my mzonline account(s). Over the last six to nine months, I've dealt with an increasing spam load, culminating in early January (when I finally took some action) with a total incoming spam count of between 700-2000 per day.

Talk about overload. It literally took an hour to go through all the email via my webmail interface when I was away from home. I just don't have the time for that.

Before I get too far into this story, I should provide some background information. You see, I originally purchased the rights to this domain (mzonline) on August 6, 1997. Through most of the time since, I've had only one actual email box, but unlimited aliases (which means that other things which come addressed to the domain get automatically redirected to the master box). Over the last few years I've added a few boxes, predominantly to handle different subjects (I did this due to the additional spam I was receiving at that time...which was on the order of 20-50 a day). But in general, I used a dozen or so aliases for filtering email in my email program...which was very useful for a long period of time.

As time has gone on, I communicate less in an informal nature via email (I talk on the phone, in person, or via some messenger service) than I once did...so most of my legitimate mail comes in the form of newsletters, weather updates, and other miscellaneous (including more formal communications). So, I was changing my email (alias) filters as time went on and more spam was directed at those addresses.

To make a long story short, by the time December rolled around, instead of getting one or two copies of the same spam message, I was getting 10 or 12. This made manually scanning the email for good hits quite easy, but was still a giant pain in my ass. With One-Act going to be in full swing, I didn't have the luxury of additional time to handle this task. Research and action would be necessary to handle this problem properly.

I did a bit of research into which aliases and accounts my legitimate mail was being sent...and to which ones the junk was going. I made a few notes and decided it time to go into action.

I created a new mailbox specifically for spam, and set my mailserver filtering (it's a sort of lower-level filtering than my email program) to send all of my legitimate mail to a specific box...and by default send everything else to the spam mailbox. I essentially said to ignore anything sent to the domain that I haven't specifically chosen.

The immediate results were stunning. I saw (literally) a 95%+ reduction in email (to the good account). I still have to deal with the junk account, but by leaving my computer at home set to automatically download that email, I merely have to empty the inbox every few days (or whenever the unread count gets to about 7500-10000). I may eventually send all email that goes there to /dev/null (the bit bucket -- recycle bin for the Windows folk) so I don't have to even download it, but for right now I can still at least search through it if I choose.

Since implementing this change, I now (personally) have to filter through about 50-70 spam messages in a day, as opposed to the previous 700-1200 per day (which was the average; about 2000 was the peak). I can manage that amount without trouble. It has helped drastically, and I often ask myself now why I didn't think of the idea sooner.

Computer Updates...

Well, I'm not necessarily updating anything around here for myself, short of eventually getting around to doing the last configuration of my newer server/router box here at home, but there are a few upgrades I'm needing to work on.

First and foremost is to get my newer server box running. Currently, for our network services at home, I have two Linux boxen, each running a different (old) version of Fedora Core. One is an old Pentium-233MMX with about 96MB RAM which I use as the router/firewall. The other is a PentiumII/333 with more hard drive space and 192MB RAM, which I use as the file server and services machine (things like time synchronization, internal mail, DNS, DHCP, DICT, etc.).

I've had a spare box here for some time (it was Beth's old machine) -- a PIII/550 with about 512MB RAM. I've got enough disks around here to provide sufficient disk space for a reasonable server. So, the intention is to combine the two older machines' services into one box. This would also draw half the power that I'm currently using keeping two machines up all the time. So, although I've got Fedora Core 4 installed on the new machine, I've not had enough time to get working on it. Fedora Core 5 will be released soon, so I'll likely download it and update the machine before I transfer any data and services to the new box.

Once that's done, I'm keeping my current router/firewall box in service, cleaning it up and updating it a bit, then getting it to my folks, who now have their own proper home network. I'll probably keep my current server box in working order for a similar thing for someone else down the road.

Speaking of FC5, I'll likely be bringing the server at work up to date to that as well, since it's still running FC1...which is now a few years old. So, I'll be doing lots of that kind of stuff...which should keep me a little bit occupied.

I'm also needing to build a couple of new machines coming up here in the next month or so (if I get enough time). They've been on order for a few months, but the recipients aren't in a huge hurry...so they're getting by with what they've got in the meantime.

Yes, there's MORE...

I'm feeling very verbose tonight, which makes up for the last pathetic post a few weeks ago...

Power Issues

Since we moved into this house now over a year and a half ago, I've noticed occasional power issues. Not outages, but once in a while we'd have a series of sags which, for the most part and aside from the UPS units clicking on and off a lot, was pretty much just a nuisance.

About a week and a half ago, Beth was here at home and a power company truck came by. They stopped, looked around, then came up and asked if they could kill the power here for a bit. Well, it turns out that they swapped out our transformer on the pole by the road. I called the power company a few days later about the need to do such a thing (mostly because I'm a dork and nosy), and talked to a nice guy who informed me of some regulations they have to follow with testing older transformers, which is why they changed ours.

Since the change, I haven't noticed the same power sags we were having, so I'm assuming that there was either a possible problem with the transformer...or with the connections it had. I'm not complaining by any means...

So, we'll see when the next time I encounter the clicking noise will be...

I think I'm done now

Well, I'm sure there's more I could write about, but I've been sitting here for about an hour now...so I'm going to leave it at that and say...Until Next Time...

This post was upgraded to the MZ Online Blog on 8/29/07

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