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August 31, 2005

Hurricane Katrina

Friday, August 26, 2005 started off calm. We knew Hurricane Kritina was going through the Florida Keys, but she was suppose to turn North towards the Florida panhandle. By 8:00 that night it was a different story.

Katrina was now projected to continue westward and strike the Louisiana coastline with the City of New Orleans in the center of the bull's eye. No one was in panic mode, but everyone within 200 miles of the Crescent City went to bed with a bit of nervousness.

Checking the latest forecast upon waking the next morning, most people started their hurricane preparations. It took until almost Noon for the first evacuation orders to be issued, but everyone was already boarding their windows and clearing the yards of anything that could be flung around in the high winds of a tropical storm.

By 1:00 PM, all essential items for my family were packed and I sent my wife and kids on their way to safety. I stayed behind, along with a neighbor, to finish boarding our homes and to grab the last few items that I wanted to take with me. We still had 48 hours before projected landfall of the storms center.

I spent Saturday night alone at home. Watching the weather forecasts looking for the slightest sign of good news.

Sunday morning I awoke and attended Sunday mass. After mass I finished my preparations, traded cell phone numbers with a neighbor who was planning on riding out the storm, and was on the road to catch up with my family in Thibodaux, LA, about 90 miles from home. What is normally an hour and a half-drive stretched into three hours because of traffic.

Eventually I did reach the home of my wife's family where everyone had gathered to ride out the storm. By that time, there was a glimmer of good news, Katrina had started her long awaited northward turn and began to pick up speed.

Good news for us, since that would leave us on the weaker side of the storms massive eye. Unfortunately, it was bad news for the Metropolitan New Orleans as it would be caught by the full force of Hurricane Katrina.

We went to bed that night, not knowing what was in store for us and was only awakened a few times by the sounds of the high winds. Seven o'clock the next morning had everyone awake as the sound of the electricity in the house disappeared and we were thrust in darkness and silence. No longer did we have the sound and coolness of the air-conditioner to keep us company.

The battery-operated radio was turned on and we listened anxiously for any news of what was happening back home. We listened as stories of windows being blown out and the roof of the Louisiana Superdome stripped off.

Attempts to use a laptop computer to connect to the Internet for a look at any pictures that may have posted failed since we were also without phone service.

But all of this told us nothing about out neighborhood. And it was still too early for anyone who had stayed behind to venture out since the full force of Katrina still had another couple of hours to arrive.

Then the phone calls started arriving at the radio station. A levee was breached and water was flooding the streets of the city, only a few miles from home! We could only hope for the best.

There was nothing we could do where we were, so tried to return to some type of normalcy. We could see that the worst was past us and we started unboarding the windows and bring the lawn chairs back out on to the lawn. We needed a place to sit outside since the house was warming up quickly in the sunshine that usually follows such a devastating storm.

We returned to the radio and started hearing unconfirmed stories of our worst nightmares. Water had flooded into our neighborhood and was standing anywhere from eight feet to twenty feet. Our homes were now under water.

Then the story of another levee breach was reported. Although we didn't want to believe it, the realization that we would not have a home to return to was slowly sinking in.

Another check of the telephone and now we had phone service. Quickly logging onto the Internet and we're able to glimpse limited snapshots of the devastation. We knew now that our nightmares were real. It would be weeks before we could think of returning to the spot that used to be our home.

Our attention then turned to checking in with friends and other family members. Cell phones were useless and we had to resort to email, not knowing how many people would have access to email after fleeing their homes.

Two days later and I have accounted for all but four family members. Three are presumed to be safe, just no way to contact them. The fourth is still missing. Last known contact with them was at 6:00 AM on the 29th, just hours away from the eye of the storm.

With no electricity and rumors stretching from two days to two weeks before it is turned back on, we fled to Texas and the generosity of other family members. A one night stay in a hotel gives me the opportunity to post this message.

This image is of the church where I attended mass the Sunday before the storm. Although it can't be seen in the picture, my house would be just off the lower left-edge of the image.


After looking at the plotted path of Hurricane Katrina and comparing it to Google Maps, I can only guess that my house was swept inside the eyewall of Katrina. With everything underwater, there is no way to tell how much damage was done by the winds of Katrina.

I will try to answer some of the questions that have been submitted over the past weekend over the course of the next few days.


Posted by admin at 11:55 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 21, 2005

Change Excel Find Formula Defaults

Many people may complain that Excel is a complicated application, but once you learn how to turn all that extra complication in your favor, things suddenly look rosey.

Using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), the programming language of all Microsoft Office applications, you can change the defaults for any command available on Excel's many menus. In this case, you want to change the default for the Edit->Find command.

The first step is using code to display the same dialog box that Excel displays. There is good news and bad news about this step. The good news is that displaying the dialog box is simple as can be. The bad news, the many options available to change the dialog box are not defined any place that I could find, so it takes a bit of experimenting to get just the options you want.

For this example, we only needed one line of code, so I'm going to show the entire macro, complete with the Sub and End Sub container markers.

Sub EditFind()
    Application.Dialogs(xlDialogFormulaFind).Show , 2, , 2
End Sub

Looking at the code, you can see it just makes a reference to the Dialogs collection inside the Excel Application, specifies the FormulaFind dialog box, and tells it to Show itself. The arguments (which are seperated by commas) to customize the appearance are passed at the end of the line.

The first argument (Find what:), which is blank, is the value to be searched for. The second argument (Search in:)listed specifies whether to search by Formulas (1), Values (2), or Comments(3). The third argument (Match entire cell contents:), again left blank for our purposes, specifies whether to search the entire cell or not (True or False). The fourth argument (Search:) specifies whether to search by Rows (1) or Columns (2). I'll live it to others to determine the other arguments available for now.

Now, you have the code, how do you use it?

Visit this page to learn how to install the code into your spreadsheet. After you've installed the code, visit this page to add a button to one of your toolbars to point to the macro.

Posted by admin at 10:01 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 16, 2005

What page am I on?

Unless you live and breathe the Microsoft Word object model, it can be difficult at times to figure out where to find the values you are looking for. Word is composed of a lot of different objects, each of which have different properties, although those properties may be repeated among some objects.

In this case you are looking for page numbers. These can be found using the Information property. You supply a Word constant that specifies the type of information you want returned. In this case, you have two options that jump right out: wdActiveEndPageNumber and wdActiveEndAdjustedPageNumber.

The first option will return the actual page number, ignoring any manual adjustments to the page numbers. The first page is page one even if it prints out as page 16. The latter option will adjust the page count based on your changes. So if you've specified that the first page will print as page 16, that is the number that is returned. The second page would be 17 and so on.

Exactly how do you use the Information property?

To get the page number for the current selection:

intCurrentPage = Selection.Information(wdActiveEndPageNumber)

To get the page number for a Bookmark:

intCurrentPage = Activedocument.Bookmarks(1).Range.Information(wdActiveEndPageNumber)

There is so much more available from the Information property. You can easily tell if the current selection is inside of a table, the column and row when the selection is inside a table, header and footer type, Overtype mode, NumLock status, and more.

Posted by admin at 11:08 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 13, 2005

How to play MP3's through a stereo

Playing your MP3's or other digital sound files on your PC with the sound coming from your stereo isn't much different from connecting a CD player or tape deck to your stereo. Simply plug the right cable into the right ports on both the PC and the stereo and you're all set. Of course, the question is, what kind of cable?

First for those who don't need the absolute highest fidelity possible, it only takes about $25 and a trip to Radio Shack, if your PC and stereo are within a few feet of each.

Every soundcard I've worked with has always had what is called a 1/8" stereo mini-jack. Your speakers/headphones have a 1/8" stereo mini-plug to match. Therefore, one end of our cable needs to have the 1/8" mini-plug.

Home stereos and amplifiers normally use RCA jacks. So, the other end of the cable needs to have RCA plugs. Radio Shack sells a Monster brand cable, 7' long for $19.99, part number 12-2057. By plugging the 1/8" mini-plug into your soundcard and the RCA jacks into your stereo, you can now listen to your MP3's on your stereo.

I would suggest that you also buy a 1/8" y-adapter (Radio Shack part number 42-2570 for $5.99. This will allow you to leave your normal computer speakers plugged in for use when you don't need the full sound from your stereo.

Quick easy solution for those who don't mind a little bit of degradation in their sound from the inherent signal loss in an analog device.

Now, what about those who want the absolute best sound possible? You need to move the digital-to-analog conversion away from your PC to as close to the stereo as possible. The soundcard in most PC's and Mac's has low-end circuitry to do the digital-to-analog conversion and then it picks up all kinds of hums and hisses from the myriad other components inside your PC's case. All of this before the sound even starts making it's way through a cable to your stereo.

Some high-end soundcards are available that offer optical connections to your stereo. This keeps the signal in it's pure digital format all the way to your soundcard. But, what if your stereo doesn't have an optical input? Then you need to move the digital-to-analog conversion outside of your PC's case.

Paul Boutin wrote an excellent review on Slate.com about three different devices that plug into your USB port and deliver sound to your stereo.

Posted by admin at 4:40 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 8, 2005

What macro is a menu item pointing to?

Word is a powerful word processor that simplifies a lot of steps by using wizards and point-and-click type commands. Programmers and power-users can add even more powerful features to Word by writing special functions in Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) that performs functions that may be specialized to a particular need.

When done in a company setting, these features may be added to Word's menu bar to make it easier for users to find these commands.

While this is a great feature, it can cause a few problems if the original programmer is no longer available to maintain the code and he didn't leave any comments as to which menu items called which functions. This is where Word's point-and-click interface is deficient.

However, you can use VBA to make up for that deficiency. The macro listed below will create a list in the currently active document that lists every menu bar and tool bar, Command Bars in Microsoft speak, available to Word. It will then list every item on those Command Bars and which macro, if any, the item points to.

Public Sub CommandBarNames()
' Written by Westley Annis
' http://www.AskWestley.com

Dim cbBar As CommandBar, ctControl As CommandBarControl
Dim ctControl2 As CommandBarControl

For Each cbBar In Application.CommandBars
    Selection.TypeText "CommandBar: " & cbBar.Name
    For Each ctControl In cbBar.Controls
        Selection.TypeText "Control: " & ctControl.Caption
        If Not ctControl.BuiltIn Then
            Selection.TypeText "     " & ctControl.OnAction
        End If
        If ctControl.Type = msoControlPopup Then
            For Each ctControl2 In ctControl.CommandBar.Controls
                Selection.TypeText "          " & ctControl2.Caption
                If Not ctControl2.BuiltIn Then
                    Selection.TypeText "                " & ctControl2.OnAction
                End If
            Next ctControl2
        End If
    Next ctControl
Next cbBar
End Sub

Posted by admin at 11:22 PM | Comments (0)

August 2, 2005

How to add a second CD/DVD drive

Although the links in this article are geared towards the Dell Dimension 4600, the actual steps are generic enough to be of use to anyone looking to add a new CD/DVD drive or replace an existing one.

Most CD or DVD drives do come with a new ribbon cable and mounting screws. If the drive is capable of burning a new disc, it will also come with some burning software. Two favorites are Nero 6 or Roxio's Easy Media Creator. The versions shipped are usually lite versions and don't have the full features of the store bought package.

If you do not have a new ribbon cable, no big deal since you probably already have a cable inside your machine that you can use. The mounting screws are usually the biggest problem. If your adding a new drive and don't have the mounting screws that come with it, you'll need to get a few 6-32 1/4 inch machine screws. Look for the smallest head you can find.

Once you have all your parts on hand, it's time to start the installation process. Full instructions for the Dell Dimension 4600 are available from Dell's web site here. Just scroll down until you reach CD drives. The condensed version is lsited below.

1) Shut the computer down, disconnect all cables, and move the PC to a flat surface that you can work on.
2) Remove the cover. The steps to remove the cover vary greatly. Some have a simple latch while others my need you to remove some screws. For the Dell Dimension 4600, you can read Dell's instructions here.
3) Remove the front panel and/or bezel if needed.
4) Set the jumpers on the drive to either Master, Slave or Cable Select to match your needs. Examine the existing CD/DVD drive jumper and set your to match. If the existing drive is Master you will want the new drive set as slave. If the existing drive is Cable Select (CS) then set the new drive to be the same since the cable will tell the computer which is the Master and which is the Slave.
5) Slide the new drive in the mounting bracket. Add side rails or alignment screws if necessary. Older machines usually used side rails on the drives. Some new machines, such as the Dell Dimension 4600 use an alignment screw.
6) Secure the drive to the mounting bracket.
7) Plug the IDE cable into the drive, the red stripe on the cable will go on the right side when facing the back of the drive, next to the power connector for the drive.
8) Plug a power connector into the drive.
9) Replace the front panel and cover.
10) Your drive is installed!

When you turn your computer on again, Windows XP will recognized the new drive and load the approriate drivers. You can then load any burning software that came with the drive or use Windows XP's built-in burning software.

Posted by admin at 9:25 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 1, 2005

What is the line of succession for rulers in Saudi Arabia?

King Fahd ibn Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia died today, August 1, 2005, after ruling Saudi Arabia for 23 years.

In making the annoucement on Saudi state television, Information Minister Iyad bin Amin Madani also announced that King Fahd would be succeeded by Crown Prince Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, his half-brother. Why didn't one of King Faud's sons succeed him?

The Saudi leadership is voted on by the members of the royal family, of which there are currently about 6,000. Since the founding of Saudi Arabia in 1932 and the election of King Ibn Saud, the country has always been ruled by a member of the al-Saud family. After King Ibn Saud's death, succession has passed on to five of his sons:

  • Saud in 1953

  • Faisal in 1964

  • Khalid in 1975

  • Fahd in 1982

  • Abdullah in 2005
  • The family usually picks a successor, named the Crown Prince, long before the current king dies, and in the case of both King Fahd and King Abdullah, they may rule behind the scenes due to illness of their predecessor (King Abdullah had been ruling in King Fahd's name since Fahd suffered a stroke in 1995.)

    This article on Slate.com, from 28 Sep 2001, has a good recap of the Saudi Royal family. It is interesting to note that Bryan Curtis, the author of the article, claims "Royal-family watching is an even more difficult art than Kremlin watching was during the Cold War."

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