Monthly Archives: July 2012

As I mentioned last week, the Stardock Corp. has added some new functionality to Start8. This latest release is version 0.87 which indicates that there may be some additional features when version 1.x is released. Version 0.87 offers the following features:

– Adds a “Start” menu to the Windows 8 taskbar.

– Quickly access and search your installed applications

– Automatically load your Windows desktop on login (vs the start screen)

– Adds Run… option via right-click menu

– Adds Shutdown… option via right-click menu

– Choose a custom “Start” button image

– Adds control over Start menu size on Explorer desktop






– Adds option for WinKey to show fullscreen Metro desktop

To test this out, I went into the Parsonage Data Services lab this afternoon and re installed the Windows 8 Release Preview in fresh Virtual Machine. I’d beating up on Win 8 pretty heavily so starting fresh was the best way to go.

Stardock Corp. is currently offering Start8 as a freebie.  Just click the “Download” button and Stardock will e-mail you a download link. The installation process is pretty simple. You will be asked one important question:

Do you want to by-pass the Metro start screen – great for tablets but not so great for desktops/laptops – and go directly to the Windows 8 desktop? Click “Yes” and when the installation is complete, restart Windows 8.

Here’s what you’ll see:

First, there is this screen  that will be displayed whenever you’re not logged in to Windows 8. There’s a fix that bypasses this screen altogether and shows the actual log in screen as the default . (I’ll try to locate this fix as soon as possible.)

Clicking on the default screen will take you to the Log In screen.

This is pretty much self-explanatory. Click on the arrow to the right of the password dialogue box and you may or may not see a quick flash of the Metro start screen. (Since I am running Windows 8 in a virtual machine, there may be a slight lag that allows you to see the touch-oriented Metro screen.) If it does appear, it will be brief and  you will arrive at the Windows 8 Desktop.

As you can see, there is a familiar-looking button in the left-hand corner of the screen. At present, clicking this button will display a Metro-ish start menu.

 If you want something more like you’re used to, I suggest that you give Classic Shell a try.

As you can see, there are work-arounds that will give you something close to what you’re more familiar with and at this point, I cannot say what enhancements will be added to Start8, Classic Shell, etc. between now ant the Windows 8 release date. My advice is that you wait a bit before migrating to Windows 8 unless your current PC dies and all the new machines are loaded with Win 8.

Finally, all of this should not be necessary but as it stands now, Microsoft seems bent on reducing the flexibility in its latest operating system. This might be a good time to consider Linux.

Since this is my last post from the 290th Reunion, I thought that I’d bore you with a little story as to ow I started coming to these things.The kids in my cohort started coming around 1964 but I actually started in 1963 . . . Sort of.

The early reunions were just the guys; Off the leash & having a real good time. After a few years, they started bringing their wives and then their kids. My father wanted these gatherings to be just the guys and nothing but the guys so he viewed the onslaught of wives & kids as nothing short of a disaster.

In the summer of 1963, the Reunion was in Greensboro, NC and Dad had planned a trip that would allow him to attend the festivities, visit Clyde’s mother in Peachland, NC for a day or two and then take us on to Wrightsville Beach, NC for about a week.

The McGovern family were on their way to NC the weekend before the event & stopped by 208 Oakwood Ave. I remember Mr. McGovern asking Dad if we were coming to the Reunion and he said no, it was just going to be him. And to a certain degree, dad was right. My brother & I had been ordered to say nothing about our plans for Greensboro.

We headed towards Greensboro a few days after that visit and Mom, Jamie & I were ensconced at the home of Hal and Ora Mae Thomas. (She was a cousin from the Cherokee line of the family. Dad left the three of us to be entertained by Hal & Ora Mae while he attended te reunion. The following evening, he took Hal to the event as a guest and left us with Ora Mae. Hal also accompanied him to the banquet.

In those days, the party went on until long after midnight. He must have had more than his share to drink because he left the car at the motel & had Hal Thomas drive him home. He recuperated the next day and around supper time, we all piled in to Hal’s car to go back to the motel to pick up the car. We were told to stay in the car & not come inside while he went to say good-bye to those who were staying over until Monday morning.

While we were sitting there, I noticed that someone had placed an empty Planter’s Peanut tin behind the right rear wheel of our family car as a prank. (There were plenty of things like that back in those days.) Afraid that Dad would run over the tin & cut a tire, I got out of the car, retrieved the tin, and took it across the street to a litter bin. On my way back, I passed by the big plate-glass windows of the motel’s restaurant. There, next to the window, enjoying dinner, was the McGovern family who had stopped by our house on their way south.

They waved at me. I waved back and Dad never heard the end of it from the other veterans. He was shamed into bringing his family along which is how I attended – for real – the 1964 Reunion in East Brunswick, NJ. Eleven years later, I exchanged vows with a girl from te Jersey Shore a few miles away in South Brunswick. Among the guests & wedding party that day were the Arons family from the 290th. I had met their girls, Paula & Cynthia, at that 1964 Reunion in East Brunswick. It is worth noting that only I attended East Brunswick with Dad. He finally relented & took all of us to Rochester & Washington, DC. Sadly, he only had a few more reunions left to attend, the last being Columbus, OH in 1969.

And that’s it from the 56th & last reunion of the Veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers. Nothing left to do but turn out the lights in the Hospitality Room.

One of the best things about the 290th reunion when I was a kid was the fact that we were able to use a real, live swimming pool. We didn’t belong to a country club or anything like that so we had to rely on Crystal Lake in Hopewell for the majority of our aquatic experiences. Throw in occasional week-ends at OceanView in Norfolk and a dip in Reedy Creek in Lunenburg County and so it went until the 1st weekend after July 4th.

I don’t know about the other kids I my cohort but my brother and I used to strategise as to how we could stay in the pool until we looked like prunes and still participate in all the other doings that the kids were up to. Needless to say, the swimming pool at the 290th Reunion was the highlight of my summer.

As this is the final get-together, I made it a point to hit the pool here in Albany one last time. It was nice to pretend – if just for a moment – that I was a kid again.

For the telling of tales.

290th Reunions were powered by . . . Well, booze and stories from their time in training & overseas and, if nothing else, what happened at the last reunion. Here is one tale that involves two of the founders of the 290th Veterans group and is suitable for readers of all ages.

My Dad was a supply sargent with the H & S Company and Clyde Kiker was his helper. When my father was drafted, he wound up in the 186th Combat Engineers at Camp Shelby, MS. When the 186th left Shelby, a select number of Non-Comms stayed behind to form the cadre for the next battalion to be formed there; The 290th. My father was one of that cadre.

Clyde Kiker served as the Executive Officer and guiding force of the 290th Veterans for many years. In 1944, Clyde was the archtypical baby-faced soldier. Very, very young and hailing from Peachland, NC.

By the time the battalion reached the European theatre and completed their training in England, the Battle of the Bulge was on and – having been given last rites  – the battalion was ordered in to action to hold the line around the salient known as the Colmar Pocket in France. My father was tasked with loading food, ammunition, and other supplies on mules and leading them over the mountains to the front lines which were at the foot.

For the return trip, he and Clyde gathered the earthly remains of the less fortunate, tied them on the mules and took them back over the mountains. My father despatched a letter to his congressman complaining that a boy as young as Clyde should not have to do such grisly work. It is not known if the Congressman ever replied.

During this time-frame, it was cold as it could be and my father – on his way to the latrine one night – passed by baby-faced Clyde Kiker who was bundled up in his mummy sack with only his nose protruding. On his return from the latrine, Dad stoped, grabbed Clyde’s nasal appendage between his thumb & forefinger and said in a voice loud enough to wake the living: “Isn’t this the cutest little baby nose you’ve ever seen?”

This morning, the last business meeting of the Veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers took place. These fine old soldiers recognised the enevitable and voted to make the 56th reunion the last official gathering. At present, there are 23 living veterans and 20 of them are either no longer able to travel or the distances are too great. The organisation will soldier on and periodically produce a newsletter.

This is by no means taps for the family that has grown up around this annual gathering. The kids and grand-kids will have more flexibility as to a date and place and I can assure you they they will continue to get together and talk about their parents for years to come. Nonetheless, these annual weekends will be missed.

As of today, we have three veterans of the 290th Combat Engineers here with us in Albany. These old soldiers are outnumbered by widows, children, grand children, etc. & their respective spouses. Back in the “good old days”, this was a hard-drinking, hard-partying bunch of fellows. The centre of action was always – and still is – the Hospitality Room a.k.a. “The Hospital Room”.  Way back when, things might have slowed down a bit around 4:00 or 5:00 AM but in the 60’s, you could usually find at least two guys with a drink in their hand at most any hour of the day or night.

Nowadays, the Hospitality Room shuts down around 10:30 PM or so and the Veterans retire much earlier than that. It’s the children of the 290th who keep things going that late and even we retire on the early side. My cohort started attending in 1964 or so and we are older now than our parents were at time. Talk about a sobering thought!

Being a 290th kid was pretty neat as for one weekend every year, we had scads of “Uncles” and “Aunts” who would give us a quarter for the candy machine, keep an eye on us when we made our mass migration to the swimming pool or  were simply willing to hear what we had done since the last reunion. These wonderful ladies and gentlemen would kindly look the other way when we got up to our annual mischief. Mind you, our “trouble” was either relatively mild or could not be proven by the hotel management/police..

We kids would spend that terrific weekend listening to stories from the war – or at least those stories which could be told in mixed company. As time went on and we became older, some of these stories sprouted  additional details that were not fit for younger ears. The kids in my cohort attended almost every year until life began pulling us in different directions after high school and college. Since then, we’ve attended when time, distance and circumstance allowed.

It was a running joke that the “Children of the 290th” would carry on after our fathers and grandfathers were gone. Since this appears to be the last time that our heroes  will gather in any organised fashion, perhaps now is our time to carry on their legacy.


Last month, I reviewed some free add-ons that will correct some of the design blunders Microsoft insists on making with Windows 8. One of my biggest complaints was that you have to go to the Windows Start Page – the one that uses the Metro interface – before you can go to the more familiar Windows desktop even if you have a desk/lap-top and have no need or desire to use Metro.

The engineers at Stardock have added functionality to their free Windows 8  start-menu utility that will take you, upon boot-up, directly to the Windows Desktop bypassing the start page completely. Thus you have Metro-no-mo!

Some users may or may not like the format of the Start Menu provided by Start8 but one thing is perfectly clear; If Stardock can figure out how to bypass the Metro interface, then other developers will quickly follow suit. Hopefully, we will see such enhancements from other developers before Windows 8 is released in October. The preview version of Windows 8 will cease to function at that time thus preventing any further testing.

The availability of suitable workarounds will impact the decision of many users as whether to migrate to 8 or stay with 7. Of course, Microsoft could avoid this situation in the first place by building flexibility in to Windows 8 to begin with. If we, the users, wanted a rigid, only-one-way-to-do-it operating system, we’d all be using OS X.

Testing of the enhanced version of Start8 will begin on Monday. If you want to try it for yourself, visit the Start8 Download page. Remember, Start8 is completely free.

One of the nice things about being here at the reunion of the 290th is that I get to talk face to face with a number of people who follow this blog. One complaint that I’ve heard both here & elsewhere is that the Twitter Bird can be quite annoying in that it will perch over whatever you’re trying to read.

I added it to this site so that folks could read my last tweet. Well, since 99% of my tweets come from blog posts, the bird is rather redundant. So, Cynthia Teles, the Twitter bird has flown the coop just for you.

This post is for my dear, long-suffering brother.

I arrived in Rensselar, NY – just across the river from Albany – a little after 7:00 PM. The shuttle van from the Best Western – Airport arrived in short order and I was soon on my way to reunite with auld friends, an Angus burger, a not-so-wee dram of Glenlivet, and a soft bed on which to rest my weary head. Needless to say, the Glenlivet was a proper dram  and it soon directed me to my room in order to submit this one last post for July 12, 2012.

Just after leaving the Amtrak station, the shuttle van wound up behind a car bearing three decals on the rear. These decals were for:

1. The New York Yankees – (My wife would be right chuffed!)

2. Oswego State University – (This is New York, after all)

3. The Virginia Tech Hokies – (My brother bleeds burnt orange & Chicago maroon for his Alma Mater!)

This just goes to prove that no matter where you go, there you are.

Let’s Go Hokies!

Penn Station is a madhouse this time of day. Plenty of people dashing about; Most of them going in one direction and looking in another.

Not much time between trains here. Just enough to ave a Nathan’s hot dog & some fries. I’ll have more time between trains when I return on Sun. Plenty of time to sample exotic foods like Dunkin’ Doughnuts, etc.

The train pulled out 2 min late. This is my favouite part of the trip; Rolling up the Hudson enroute to Albany. Unfortunately, my Flip video recorder is packed in my bag. Will have it handy on the way back. The light should be better then, anyway.

Nothing to do now but sit back, relax and enjoy the scenery. Oh yeah, add strangling the loud mouth across the aisle to that list.

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July 2012
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