My Left Foot or How I learned to love the bag

Now here’s an interesting post outside of the normal tech sphere.

The other day I went to the gym. I know, *gasp*, tech people go to the gym?! You should see the reaction I get when I tell people I practice Muay Thai kickboxing. Talk about stereotyping.

Anyway, I digress. I started with martial arts about 15 years ago when I would let one of my high school buddies "show" me his Tae Kwon Do moves. You don’t have to be a punching bag for too long before you start to pick up some techniques. Since then I’ve studied Kyokushin Karate, Jeet Kune Do (which Bruce Lee made famous), and Kenpo at various periods in my life.

I got involved with Muay Thai about 3 years ago, first through Columbia University’s Kickboxing club and since have practiced on my own. Currently, I’m evaluating several NYC schools. Pickings are surprisingly slim. I like Five Point Fitness and even though they are all the way downtown, I may make that my new home.

Practicing on my own has been OK, but everyone’s natural tendency is to get comfortable in a given routine and not push yourself towards your weaknesses. This bring me to the original reason for my post; my left foot.

Unlike some of the other styles I’ve studied, Muay Thai does not chamber its kicks and the leg is straight through most of the kick. It’s the reason Muay Thai is renowned for a very powerful martial art. However, after so many years of doing chambered kicks, its difficult to completely adopt a new technique. This is doubly true for your non-dominant leg.

So here’s where technology come back in play. I started browsing YouTube and Google Video for Muay Thai clips.There are some really decent ones like this match, and some junk, like this clown. But, in all, I was able to glean some things from watching experienced fighters. Then, I decided to make my own video in order to evaluate my own performance. Truthfully, my original intention was to keep this for private viewing only, but A) putting it online gave me an excuse to play with Flash, which I have not done for awhile, and B) it makes me appear cooler that I actually am.

So, narcissistic tendencies aside, you can see my latest endeavor in the Flash player to the right. I don’t know exactly how it started, but I’m pretty sure the bag said something about my Mama. It knows better now.

Using Linux to rescue a Windows hard drive

Koffice15So, a friend of mine tells me his Thinkpad is kapput. As ‘computer guy’ requests go this is more interesting than the “what computer do you think I should buy” I normally get. Anyway, after very little troubleshooting I conluded his laptop was in fact dead as opposed to just being asleep or needing to be recharged as I originally suspected.

Well since the laptop couldn’t power on, the best I could hope to do was recover the data off the hard drive. I purchased a 2.5 inch to 3.5 inch convertor so that I could attach the laptop’s HDD to my desktop’s IDE cable. CompUSA has one for $9.99.

From there I thought it would be smooth sailing. I booted up the desktop which immediately recognized the new drive. I drilled down through to get the My Documents folder off of the laptop drive. No go. Access denied. Now, I was expecting this. The laptop was running Windows XP and the drive was formatted using NTFS. So I tried using Windows XP’s runas utility to run explorer using my friend’s username and password. Alas, no luck. Now I had run out of clever ideas.

Before giving up, I checked my favorite user’s manual, Google, and came across a great article on using Knoppix to access a NTFS-formatted drive. For those you don’t already know Knoppix is a version of linux that fits on a cd or dvd. You can download the iso file and burn a bootable cd/dvd. Then, simply place the cd in the drive and reboot your computer as normal. Most newer desktops can boot off the cd drive though you may need to access the boot menu. (On a Dell, hit F12 while the screen is showing the Dell logo.) Once Knoppix has finished loading, you’ll see a desktop very similar to Windows’.

Knoppix was amazing in that it easily detected all my hardware including the USB key I didn’t realize I had left plugged in. Actually in the article, using an external USB hard drive sounds like the recommended route. Since I didn’t have one of those and my buddy had 14GB of data, using the IDE connection to copy fies from the laptop’s drive to my own was my only option.

I was using Knoppix 5.0 and found that I did not need to run the Captive NTFS tool that is described in appendix G. Though I did have to follow the instructions for making drives writable. I had trouble figuring out which drives to make writable. This was probably complicated by the fact that my desktop has three HDD’s not including the USB. I fumbled my way through it and was able to copy over the needed files.

It was not without a twinge of irony that I used Linux to save a Windows machine.

A force of one

Being ‘Director of Information Technology/Business Systems’ sounds very lofty and officious, but being a department unto oneself at a entrepreneurial non-profit has its moments of humility. So while I manage a >$200k budget and deal with outsourced tech vendors from New York to New Delhi, I (with humor) notice that none of the other directors at my agency;

  1. Are required to crawl under someone’s desk as any part of their daily duties.
  2. Have a drill in their desk drawer.
  3. Still have occasion to use floppy disks.
  4. Get their hands dirty (literally)

Flash Based Training on MediaWiki

As I’ve mentioned a few other times here, I established a wiki for my organization’s intranet. It’s really taken off as a way for users to quickly and easily post and share documents. I mostly use it to post how to’s to nip in the bud the kind of support requests that eat away at my day. Very often I’ll get a ‘how do I’ question via email, spend 20 minutes posting a page on the intranet (complete with screenshots), and email the person back the link to the page I just made. That way I never have to answer that question again. In theory. Not all my people RTM if you know what I mean.

One thing that has helped as been creating flash based tutorials and posting them to the intranet. I use a product called Camtasia Studio by TechSmith. Essentially its just like doing a screenshot but using video and audio. I start it up, put on my headset, click record, and talk and click my way through the task. When I feel especially generous I add titles and callouts. Otherwise its a breeze to publish to flash and post on the site. I use an MediaWiki extension called Flashow to add Flash to the intranet pages.