Geeky Stuff

They simply don't get it.

People who are against net neutrality simply because it's "more government regulation" simply don't get it.

They don't realize that telecoms are natural monopolies. It's nearly impossible for competition to happen in an arena where one company owns 95% of the infrastructure in an area.

They also don't realize that, left to their own devices, these companies will do EVERYTHING THEY CAN to screw their customers to make money. The customers don't have a choice. Even when there are two companies in an area, they will frequently do the same anti-customer things because they both know the other is doing the same so they won't lose customers. They both end up making more money. This happens in other industries too; look how quickly all the airlines started charging more luggage fees when the first one came up with the idea.

Regulation isn't always bad. There are cases when an authority has to step in and make sure everyone is playing fair. Internet access is one of them.

So, all you people bitching about "more government regulation", please wake the hell up and join us here in reality. Thank you.

Whee, upgrades...

Brought sarabi up to the latest OS patch level, upgraded PHP to 5.2.x, Apache to latest 2.0.x, Gallery to 2.2, Drupal to latest rev, cleaned out some useless garbage that was left by spammers, and posted a few fuckloads of photos.


I should update this more often. :)

ATSC and digital television: Are we in for another upgrade race?

As many of you know, analog television broadcasting in the US will end on February 2009. Of course, the television networks refuse to let you forget this, constantly telling you that if you are using an old fashioned over the air antenna (rabbit-ears) to receive TV, you better get a converter box. They don't want to lose their valuable viewers.

Of course this is false; rabbit-ears aren't the factor at all; it's the receiver that's in your television. But I'm sure there will be folks that will panic about this and get converter boxes they don't need even though they have a new set.

That's not what I'm going to talk about, though. I'm going to talk about ATSC itself.

ATSC is a neat little standard. You can transmit a 19 megabit signal in the space that an old fashioned analog television channel used to use. You can support multiple sub channels, and resolutions up to 1920x1080 (1080i) high definition. However, there is a force at work that will probably lead to more frequent television receiver upgrades than you might have been used to.

The original television standard, NTSC, was pretty much static from the 1950s until today. The technology remained backwards compatible; heck you can use a 1960s television to watch today's analog broadcasts. However, digital technology is constantly improving at a high rate dictated by Moore's law and software design. Right now ATSC uses MPEG-2 transport streams to transmit television signals. MPEG-2 is already a fairly obsolete codec which requires much more bandwidth for a given image quality than newer codecs like h.264 AVC.

Since broadcasters want to cram more and more channels into an already tight spectrum, there will likely be a push to move to more efficient codecs in the future as technology marches on. Do you really think you're going to be using MPEG-2 transport streams to watch television in 2025? I'll bet you $1000 that you won't be.

There are three possibilities, really. The first is that broadcast television will stagnate. They will keep using the current ATSC standard to transmit the few, limited channels we already have and the spectrum use will become less efficient as time marches on. The second is that broadcast television will eventually die, and be fully replaced by cable TV and direct broadcast satellite systems. With these systems, upgrading the codec used is as simple as upgrading the set-top box. As codecs improve we can keep packing more and more channels of rubbish into the same space. The third possibility is that we're going to be upgrading our televisions every 10 to 15 years as new codecs are added to the ATSC standard. I wouldn't put it past the industry making people do this.

And the most amusing thing about all of this? There still won't be much of anything worth watching on television. Why do media companies think more channels is better? I'd be happy with five channels if the programming were decent.

And that's my geeky outlook on television standards. Carry on...

No, you don't want an iPhone. Here's why!

Someone working at a Verizon store is using printouts of a (now out-of-date) blog entry I wrote back in 2007 to convince people not to buy iPhones.

Points (3) and (5) in my blog entry no longer apply, but the rest of the entry is still valid.

I find it amusing that my little rant is being used by Verizon as a sales tool. I should edit the article and put in subtle potshots against Verizon. If he's just blindly printing the page and handing it to folks, he may not notice right away! ;)

Dusty Nostalgia

Ahh, the good ol' days... (not)

10 Gigabit Ethernet

Holy crap. They have 10 gigabit ethernet cards now.

Not only are they 10 gigabit, but they use regular copper twisted pair wiring. You can run 10 gigabit ethernet up to 45 meters on plain ordinary CAT5e cabling, and up to 100m on CAT6.

The cards are about a grand a pop, but it'll surely go down. And this is the first time I see a network card with a *fan* on it! I'm not too surprised; the DSP trickery that must be needed to put 10 Gb ethernet on regular UTP must be mind-blowing.

I'm wondering how long we start needing these, though. Only trunks between switches have saturated gigabit ethernet links, in my experience. It'll probably be a few years before servers can make the most of having 10 gigabit links. system history

Updated 9/22/2009

This is a history of all the main computer systems I've ever owned, going back to 1983 when I got my first system.

It is mostly maintained for nostalgic reasons.

  • 1983 - Apple II+ acquired. 48K RAM, 1MHz 6502, 300bps modem. Total disk storage 140K per 5.25" floppy disk. First computer.
  • 1990 - II+ motherboard fails. IIe acquired for $250 at yard sale as interim replacement machine. Interim extends three years. Ugh.
  • 1993 - 486SX25 / 4MB RAM / 170MB HDD / 2400bps modem acquired. (first PC)
  • 1994 - Above 486 receives various upgrades. Is eventually named SARABI (after Simba's mother, from The Lion King) when Internet access is first achieved in late 1994 and a hostname is required.
  • 1994 - 2400bps modem -> 14400bps USRobotics Sportster
  • 1995 - SARABI gets Linux installed for the first time. It is a 486DX2/66 w/ 12MB of RAM and a 730MB HDD at this point. Kernel 1.2.13 baybee!
  • 1996 - MILVA (named after my girlfriend at the time) comes along: 386DX/33, 5MB RAM, 20MB MFM hard drive, CGA monitor. First dedicated Linux box. Ran Linux-On-A-Floppy very slowly.
  • 1996 - 14400bps modem -> 33600bps USRobotics Sportster. I remember this shopping trip because Milva was present during.
  • 1996 - Later: SARABI upgraded to Pentium 133 / 32MB RAM / 1.6GB. Old SARABI becomes new MILVA and obtains 260MB HDD. At this point it's a 486DX2/66 w' 24MB RAM, still with CGA monitor.
  • 1997 - 17" AcerView 76ie monitor acquired to upgrade SARABI's display; 14" monitor goes down the chain to replace the CGA monitor on MILVA.
  • 1998 - MILVA upgraded to Am5x86/133, gets bigger disk. MILVA later renamed HUSHPAD (after the character in Tailchaser's Song).
  • 1998 - Modem goes X2 and eventually v.90. Life sucks slightly less.
  • 1999 - BigAss(TM) case acquired, along with a ton of SCSI disks for HUSHPAD. This was my "SCSI KICKS ASS!!" phase. Six disks in a full tower case are NOISY. I'm glad I got over this.
  • 1999 - Apple IIgs acquired. Transferred all important old Apple II floppies to disk images for eternal preservation.
  • 2000 - SARABI completely replaced with DUCHESS (named after the cat in Disney's The Aristocats), Pentium III 600MHz w/ 128MB RAM running Windows 2000. HUSHPAD inherits SARABI's motherboard and thus becomes Pentium 166 (overclocked) with 96MB of RAM.
  • 2000 - ISDN line installed. 128000bps. Modems retired forever.
  • 2001 - HUSHPAD upgraded to Pentium II 233MHz w/ 128MB RAM. BigAss(TM) case retired. DUCHESS stagnates.
  • 2002 - HUSHPAD CPU upgraded to Pentium III 600MHz. DUCHESS continues to stagnate.
  • 2002 - Cat hair becomes a new contaminant to clean out of computers, due to the arrival of Lynxie the Highly Furred GreyTabby.
  • 2002 - First flat panel, a ViewSonic VX900, is acquired. 1280x1024, 19", lousy refresh time (even for back then)
  • 2003 - NALA (Powerbook G4) acquired. HUSHPAD's CPU fails. DUCHESS mobo+chip used to resurrect HUSHPAD. DUCHESS retired.
  • 2003 - Samsung Syncmaster 21" flat panel acquired.
  • 2004 - HUSHPAD motherboard fails. Good friend Rieshal loans a Pentium III 600 chip that fits in HUSHPAD's old motherboard.
  • 2004 - DSL line installed.
  • 2004 - HUSHPAD upgraded to P4-3.0GHz/512MB/160GB. Old HUSHPAD becomes SARABI (fileserver off-site).
  • 2006 - NALA upgraded to Macbook Pro. Old NALA sold for peanuts since it had been dropped.
  • 2006 - SARABI upgraded to AMD Sempron 2800+. Old SARABI collecting dust at the moment.
  • 2006 - MEERCLAR (named after the cat goddess in Tailchaser's Song) (Mac Pro 2.66GHz / 2GB / 250GB) acquired. Replaces HUSHPAD as primary desktop system; HUSH
  • 2007 - MEERCLAR upgraded to 4GB of RAM and ATI Radeon X1900XT.
  • 2007 - Samsung monitor fails. Replaced with Dell 2407WFP.
  • 2008 - NALA upgraded from 100GB to 200GB hard drive.
  • 2008 - Video card in HUSHPAD fails, resulting in failure to boot. Nvidia GeForce4 MX harvested from previous SARABI to resurrect it.
  • 2009 - SAVANNAH (MythTV box) acquired. Lil' Dell Optiplex 745 Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz / 2GB of RAM / 80GB HDD

Current systems:

HUSHPAD - Dell Precision Workstation 360 - Pentium 4 3.0GHz, 2.5GB RAM -- Home Linux server/router. Handles net connection, DHCP and local DNS.
MEERCLAR - Mac Pro 1,1 - Quad Core Xeon 2.66GHz, 8GB RAM -- Master workstation, dual head display; it's where I do most of my stuff when I'm at home.
NALA - Macbook Pro 1,1 -- Core Duo 2.0GHz, 2GB RAM -- Laptop, for computing on the go. Getting a bit long in the tooth.
SAVANNAH - Dell Optiplex 745 USFF -- Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz, 2GB RAM -- MythTV box. It's for watching TV. Runs Mythdora 10. So named because the huge expansive screen hooked up to it is like a savannah.
SARABI - Big ugly generic box -- AMD Sempron 2800+, 512MB RAM -- - Hosts this site. Colocated at work. Handles my E-mail too.

rsync is better than sex! Well, almost.

I just wanted to extol the virtues of rsync. This little application has saved my ass (or kept it from hurting) more than any other UNIX utility ever has.

rsync is simple. It lets you copy a tree of files from one place to another. It does so by only copying what is different between the two locations, though, so it can be remarkably efficient.

Moving three terabytes of data from one machine to another? Don't use cp, or a tar through a pipe. If either of these are interrupted you have to start all over! Just use rsync. If it fails? Shrug, roll your eyes and restart the process. It'll resume near where it left off and finish in no time.

Have to move a user home directory from one machine to another? Use rsync. When it's done, use rsync again to copy anything that has changed. Once nothing has changed, rename the old location and create a symlink in its place. Window of opportunity for error reduced to almost nil.

Backing up your server at home to offsite? Just rsync it. It'll only copy what has changed, even within individual files. That 400MB log file that has 20K appended to it doesn't have to be resent in its entirety; rsync will compare the first 400MB on both ends, sending checksums to make sure they're identical, then send the 20K at the end. Your 512kbps DSL connection will sigh in relief.

This utility is awesome. If you are a UNIX user, familiarize yourself with it. And all of you Mac OS X users have it too; it comes with every release since Panther. Just be sure to use the -E option when rsyncing between Macs; that tells it to preserve HFSplus extended attributes.

Have fun!

It works! Solid state iPod on the way!

(click to embiggen)

Above is my 4G 20GB iPod, opened up. On the left is the 20GB hard drive it came with, which has been removed. As you can see, I have replaced it with a 4GB CF card at the moment, to test the adapter which I received today.

It works! I was able to sync about 3.5GB of music onto it, and play it back, and not only does it work, but those delays caused by spinning up the hard drive when skipping songs are gone.

Now I can safely order the 32GB CF card from NewEgg, and I'll soon have an upgraded capacity, completely solid state iPod!

The iPod feels a lot lighter, too. This will make do nicely until they someday release a 32GB or 64GB Nano.

*geeky cackles of glee*

Microsoft, you never cease to amaze...

Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac is a native (Intel) application.

Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac is a PowerPC only application, which must run under CPU emulation (Rosetta) to work on Intel Macs.

Yet Office 2004 is *STILL* faster than 2008, even with the emulation overhead.

How is it that MS continues to write such garbage software, yet they are never called on it? People just keep buying it, regardless of how crappy it is.

I think I'll stick with iWork on my personal Macs and not even touch that bloated pile of crap. Unfortunately users want it at work so I have to install it for them...


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