Archive for the 'tech' Category

Cabin pressure on commercial airlines.

November 23, 2008

I have a Casio Pathfinder watch with a built in altimeter. It works based on air pressure. I’ve worn it while I’ve been traveling a couple of times and I like to check it when the plane takes off and as the plane approaches cruising altitude.

Now of course it does not measure actual altitude. For that to happen, the cabin would have to be completely unpressurized. At the same time, one might think that the air pressure in the plane would stay the same throughout the entire flight. If my watch is to be believed this is not the case. This makes sense from a practical standpoint too because otherwise a person’s ears would never pop on the plane.

Here’s some of the data I took. Before they shut the door, the watch said 800′. At take off it dipped to 160′ then went to 420′, 800′, 1300′ and ultimately capped at 5940′ at 31,000′. So assuming a linear relationship between the reading on the watch and actual altitude, the ratio was 1′ on the watch to 5.22′ in real altitude.

On the way back, it capped out at 6280′ so I might have been higher at 32,781′.

I was kind of surprised that it went that high. If the watch is to be believed, spending time at cruising altitude in a commercial airline is like spending time in Denver, CO.

So did I feel like a geek when I was sitting there tracking this data from my watch? Sure, but if you’ve spent any time at all reading this blog, you know that that doesn’t bother me.

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New KVM Goodness.

September 30, 2008

I ditched my old KVM and looked around for a 4 computer model that would work with my 30″ monitor.  I’m trying maximize the surface area on my desk.  Happily, I found one:

Here it is in action:

Right now, I only have one computer plugged into it.  The plan is to slowly build 2 more and perhaps buy a Mac Pro for the 4th.

I’ll do a follow up review on this in the future.
IOGEAR GCS1204 4PORT DVI KVMP SWITCH W/ 2.1 AUDIO DUAL LINK
(Oooh, cheaper here)
IOGear GCS1204 4-Port Dual Link DVI KVMP with 2.1 Audio

Building a PC: Tall or Wide?

September 6, 2008

As I see it, anyone who wants to build a computer today needs to make a choice:  should it be built to be as fast as possible without regard to the number of cores or should it have as many cores as possible without clockspeed being a priority?  In other words, should it be tall or wide?

If you want to go tall, it seems to me that you should buy the most expensive dual core chip you can find and then overclock it as far as it will go.  If you could get a dual core up to 4.6 GHz you would have a fast machine indeed.  Couple this with fast memory and a Raptor RAID 0 set up or even a flash drive and you have raw speed.  Of course with only 2 cores, it’s not wide.  But do you need it to be wide?

On the other hand, if you buy a Skulltrail motherboard and put 2 quadcore chips on it, then you’ve got something that’s wide.  You have 8 cores!  Even with overclocking, you probably won’t be able to get to the same speed as the overclocked dual cores.  However, if the software you’re using can handle multicore processing, this computer with smoke the dual core system using that application.

But there aren’t that many programs that can use quadcore chips effectively.  Today, it would seem that you’re better off with a fast dual core than spending crazy money on a quad or dual quad system.  This won’t always be the case, but for probably the next 6 months.  It’s true.

Expensive PC chrome.

September 1, 2008

I like reading both CPU and Maximum PC because I’m very much into computer hardware.  Some people like messing with cars; I like messing with computers.  Some people will pay more for chrome, I’ll pay more for GHz!

In its September 2008 issue, CPU featured some tricked out computers that sell for around $15,000.  That’s the price of a car.  If I were rich, would I buy such a thing?  Because I like building PCs, I probably would never buy a PC like this because I’d rather have the fun putting it together.

Let’s look at one of these.  The Biohazard Rapture impresses me because it uses “multiple evaporator phase-change cooling systems.”  This system allows Biohazard to overclock two QX9775 systems to 4.6GHz on a Skulltrail motherboard.  Whoa.  I mean, daaaaaaamn.  The cooling system brings the processors down to – 20 degrees F.  It’s very difficult for a hobbyist to do something like that.  So here, you’re getting something for your $15k that you can’t really do yourself.

Of course by studying these supercomputers, a hobbyist can see how the big boys do their tricks.  I picked up how to set up Raptor drives in RAID zero from reading about these machines.  I  also got into water cooling this way.  If I bought a Skulltrail mobo and some high end cooling equipment, I could probably create something faster than anything a person could buy at Microcenter.  But there’s no question I could not equal what Biohazard has done.

Could it be done more cheaply?  Relatively speaking, yes.  In this neighborhood of performance the mobo and the chips alone come close to $4,000.  Thus, even if you do it yourself, you’re talking about spending 5 grand.  Now that’s a third of the price of a Rapture, but the performance would be closer than that.  I’m confident that I could get it up to 4 GHz.  I’ve done that with lesser chips.  So while I’ll stipulate that I can’t match the Rapture for $5,000, I can get to 87% for 1/3rd the price.  Moreover, considering the level of diminishing returns right now on using an 8 core box, what difference would it really make day to day?

Sadly, that cuts both ways to me as a computer enthusiast.  You could say to me, “but Thaed, I can buy a Dell for $1000.00 that gives me comparable performance for 1/5 of your $5000.00 price that will be great for Office, Firefox and maybe a little Photoshop.”  And what do I have to say to that?  Well, yeah, but look at the chrome!

Playing with the TiVoHD and misc.

August 23, 2008

I’ve been playing with my TiVoHD. It has had a big impact on my life as it played a role in reacquainting me with old friends.

I used the TiVo desktop to move an HD recording of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to my server. I was able to watch it on my 30 inch monitor in my basement. Nice. Although my flagship machine manged this with no problem, another machine I have choked. This is very annoying. It is a 1.6 GHz dual core and it chokes on everything. It’s kind of useless. I’m not sure if it is the computer or if it is the fact that it’s running Vista. The flagship machine runs XP.

Anyhow, I like the idea of being able to watch HD shows down there. I’m not sure that it needs to be on my best computer though. I’m thinking that it might be time to build a new computer. As a stopgap, I’m using the quadcore that’s plugged into my HDTV to move the files to the server.

I am also playing with a wireless microphone and I bought a new webcam too. I’ll probably have more to say about that stuff in the future.

I feel like I needed to get some words going here, it’s been more than a little sparse lately.

FreeNAS Idiosyncracies.

July 27, 2008

I enjoy using FreeNAS. I have three FreeNAS servers. Why would anyone need three? It’s because of the idiosyncrasies associated with using the software. For one thing, Vista doesn’t like FreeNAS very much in certain configurations and I have 3 Vista machines. For example, if you set up one of your servers in a RAID 5 configuration, Vista will read it just fine. But it won’t write to it. It won’t write to it because it thinks the disk is full. Vista can’t get an accurate reading of the disk size. So it won’t write to it at all. XP does not have this problem, thankfully. If it did, I would not be able to use FreeNAS in a RAID 5 configuration.

I overcome this idiosyncrasy by having another server set up with its disks mirrored. Vista reads disk mirrors without any trouble. All I have to do is use an XP machine to sync up the data from the disk mirrors with the main server. This way I have all my data on one machine. I use the third server to back up the main server. In a way, it seems ridiculous. However, FreeNAS servers are cheap (the software is free). Moreover on a gigabit network, data transfer is fast. You could accomplish what I do with a Drobo. However, it wouldn’t be nearly as fast. Also I’m not sure that you could stream video from a Drobo. FreeNAS servers make excellent video servers.

I started out using Rsync to keep my servers synced with each other. This quickly crashed. I couldn’t figure out how to fix it either. So, I moved to Allway Sync. This program has worked wonderfully. Of course FreeNAS wouldn’t be FreeNAS with out idiosyncrasy here as well. You have to reboot the servers more than you should. Often, after transferring gigabytes of data, the server will drop out and need to be rebooted. I haven’t lost any data and the servers are fine once you reboot them. Sometimes, with Allway Sync, sinking directionally as opposed to bidirectionally works better.

The latest FreeNAS joy has been having two of the servers spontaneously switch IP addresses. I have no idea why this happened. I thought for a moment that maybe there was some malice involved from a third party. But no. My best guess is that IP addresses opened up and that the servers rebooted and picked those. I’ve been using FreeNAS for a long time and it has never done that.

You might think that is a lot of effort to use these servers. But I can tell you that that is not so. While I have identified the above issues, they are all manageable. The servers have great up time and I can move my data around quickly.  Plus, it is awesome to have all my data in one place.  It’s like having an old car that has problems but you know what the problems are and you know how to fix them. And in the meantime the car gets you where you want to go. With all the redundancy I have with these servers, I believe my data is safer than it has ever been (knock on wood).

Toshiba Satellite u305-s2816: A review.

May 25, 2008

Toshiba Satellite U305-S2816 13.3" Laptop (Intel Centrino Core 2 Duo T8100 Processor, 2 GB RAM, 250 GB Hard Drive, Vista Premium) Onyx Blue
I’ve had my Toshiba for a couple of months now. I really could not be happier. I bought two so my wife and I could each have the same laptop. This helps me with computer support as any quirk one machine has, the other one probably has it too. Another reason I wanted two of these machines is because they have built in cameras. When I travel, my wife and I can have video conferences. We have done several of these on Skype and it’s been wonderful.

The first thing I did when I first started working with the laptops was to remove the crap-ware. In place of the stuff that was on the machine, I put Zone Alarm on and AVG. After removing the crap-ware, the machines were noticeably faster. Both machines run Vista Home Premium. I have found that on laptops, Vista generally behaves itself.

I’ve used a lot of laptops over the years. I’m old. I’ve had laptops from almost every brand available for business and for fun. What I like about these little Toshibas far outweighs what I don’t. The 13.3” screens fit quite nicely on airplane table trays. I went from never using my laptop on the plane to using it all the time. Plus the battery life is a real 4 hours. I use the laptop in battery mode all the time. Very satisfying.

The graphics are good enough to play decent games. I’ve been playing a cheap dungeon crawler called Fate. It’s a Diablo II clone that runs without difficulty on the laptop. I haven’t tried anything heavier, but I suspect there would be passing game performance for most games, Crysis notwithstanding.

This laptop has become the center of my universe. It’s light enough to take everywhere and I do.

As far as cons, I don’t like the fans. They must be computer controlled because they constantly cycle up and down. If I am in a quiet room, it’s noticeable. Of course, I have big ears and very sensitive hearing. Other than that, I’ve had one or two blue screens over the course of several months of use. Not bad. These laptops were cheaper than Mac Book Pros and in my opinion, a much better deal.

We actually did buy these from Amazon, by the way.

Grandiosity versus the low profile.

May 20, 2008

It occurs to me that some people put a lot of effort into leaving comments on blogs, posts in forums and even idle chatter in IRC (if you have enough windows open). It seems to me that this is low profile effort. If instead, someone took that time and effort and did his or her own blog or podcast, the result would reach more people. I have nothing against comments, posts or chats. I do all three. However, it’s not my primary internet thing. I get a lot more return for the blogging and podcasting that I do from being someone else’s minion. Yet, perhaps there is room to be both a minion in one instance and a star in another.

Some new business models are entirely dependent on getting people to comment/post/chat. In other words, the goal is to get advertising to pay for access to these folks. Perhaps some people don’t realize that? Also, if your goal is to reach out to the internet famous person at the top of the particular new media stack, sitting in the IRC for the show might not be the best way. Certainly, it’s not if you want to actually have a conversation.

This is something I’m thinking a lot about as I expand my own internet hobby ventures. For me, it is solely about the fun.

New Media Will Eat Itself.

April 26, 2008

Two links pushed to me via Twitter are forming enough rumination to generate a post. This original video is blog worthy in and of it self and this blogger has seized upon it. It is biting but true enough to be funny. I must be a new media DB then. Except that I have a day job. I think that there are some new media people who are big who do it all for fun and have independent means (or are on the dole).

My peer group of new media folks are the ones who are doing other things for a living. Someone in this camp (who is far more successful in new media than I) is Scott Johnson. His Extra Life Radio Show is very, very popular and he has a web comic and other podcasts as well. He also has a full time regular job. He must be a very energetic guy to sustain this kind of output. I’m sure he would like to quit his day job, but the thing is that old school jobs pay a heck of lot better. That’s certainly true for me. I don’t even do advertising on my podcasts. I’m not going to be quiting my day job anytime soon.

The other link that makes me write is an article from The Los Angeles Times re: SXSW. Here we see new media doing self-cannibalizing at it’s finest with someone vlogging themselves while interviewing a blogger. If you want to take the analogy to its furthest, new media regenerates as it self-consumes. It feeds on itself but miraculously continues to grow in the process. If it is a Hydra, it bites off one of its own heads and two more sprout. Everyone is making content about each other which in turn generates new content.

How long can it continue? It will peak in growth like everything else. But new media itself is permanent. There will always be a segment of the population that like to write words and make videos. The gateway to entry has been forever smashed with WordPress and YouTube. There will always be someone to consume this. As a consequence, I think one thing that has died is the old media superstar. New media pulls market share and eyeballs away from old media even though it doesn’t pay the talent very well. Just like in the music industry, where there will never be another Rolling Stones, so will go the rest of old media. You won’t have enough money in old media to create an old school superstar any longer. Although, on the flip side, every element of human interest gets its own micro-celebrity. In certain instances, that micro-celebrity becomes big enough to be a micro-celebrity superstar, like Veronica Belmont, for example.

If the loss of superstars paves the road for participation in media by the masses, I think we’re all better off. Certainly, with our cameras and microphones and lighting kits, we are having more fun.

Twitter Nodes.

April 12, 2008

Last night, I had a video of David Allen running, I was reading blogs on blog mad and blog explosion and I was reading what people were saying on Twitter.  So I had audio input (I wasn’t really watching the video) new blog material from a variety of sources that I would not ordinarily read and the latest micro-blogging from people across the world.

Twitter is sort of like reality TV except that it’s real time.  Jaffejuice said that “Twitter is like a police scanner except you can talk to the police.”  I like that except we’re all the police.  I think it’s more like the Borg from Star Trek.  It gives you the latest information; the latest sensory input from organic nodes throughout civilization.  It is like a human botnet whose job it is to report what is happening at the moment.

Of course there is a lot of noise.  There are a lot of people talking about a lot of things in which I have no interest.  That’s why I was listening to Mr. Allen and reading blogs.  The combination of activity was far better than television or movie watching.  It was even better than playing a videogame.  It satisfied my relentless desire for new material.

I’ve written in the past how we are all nodes.  We get more connected every day.  But not all of us speak the same language and not all of us have the same interests.  Some of us are, sadly, quite annoying.  And when a node annoys me, I unfollow it.  I’ve done this three times so far and by the count of followers that I have, some people have unfollowed me as well.  This does not surprise me in the least.  I am an acquired taste.  Take this blog for example, while there are a fair amount of readers, I will never be Robert Scoble.  And that’s fine.