Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A new soul for my IBM X40

I recently bit the bullet and dived into the SSD game. My trusty IBM X40 is 5 years old, still running strong but slow as a dog. Even though I only use it for occasional travel, and to RDP to my main box while sitting on my Lazyboy ... the laptop has always been annoyingly slow.

While I wait to decide to plunge into a new desktop system with SSD (Probably the Intel X25), with Windows 7 and 64 bit etc ... I lazily poked around and discovered that recently there have been aftermarket sales of SSD drives for the X40. The X40 is a strange laptop in that it has a special and very uncommon slot for hard drives, a 1.8 inch IDE slot. Until recently you could *ONLY* get the 30GB drive from IBM and nothing else.

Well now thats changed, you can get SSD drives from KingSpec and Levano ! The 60GB Levano drives list at $1200+ (eikes) but you can get them on ebay for $200. The Kingspec comes in 32G and 64G for $150-$200. There's a lot on the net about these and which works best etc. I went with the Kingspec for its slightly better ratings. (I suggest for an X41 you go with Levano to avoid an annoying boot time beep).

I knew that I'd have problems re-installing the OS because the X40 doesnt come with installation media, instead it has a seceret partition used to re-install. You have to talk IBM into selling you a reinstall CD set for $50. I found a company on the net selling these for $20 so I bought them. I also needed an external CD drive (X40 is CD-less). I swear I had one lying around but couldnt find it ... so thanks to ebay a $30 el-cheapo USB CD drive. Plus I used TrueImage to do an image backup of my HD to an USB Drive. And at worse, I still have my original drive if all else fails I can put it back in ...

Packages all came within a week and I brought out the screw driver, watched the "how to remove your hard drive" video from Levano, worried because there were horror stories about how these SSD drives dont fit right sometimes ... but nope. 10 minutes later and 5 screws I had the SSD drive installed. (1 screw on the case, then the drive itself is in a little caddy that is screwed on, you need to move the caddy to the SSD drive). It booted up in BIOS fine , although I cant find a single place in the X40 BIOS that refers to the HD or IDE ports. Weird.

My first goal was to do a re-install from my TrueImage Backup. I read some people were successful at this (using some other backup program). Not me. TrueImage recognized the drive fine and the backup device, but about 1/2 way through setting up the From and Too parameters it went into "beep beep beep" mode. Totally hung. Retried 3 times same deal.

Ok try #2. Use the Recovery CD's from Levano. They take FOREVER. There are 7 CD's. The first one takes 20 minutes to launch the recovery panel, then you put in CD after CD about 30 minutes a piece (really!). #Fail. 2 of the CDs' reported CRC errors. I even tried duplicating on my desktop (they Dup fine, and the files read fine). But nope. Reading on the net many people have this problem and noone reports success, even after having the CD's replaced 4 times.
And worse ... it takes HOURS ... I mean like 4 hours to get to the point where it dies.
Screw that.

Ok last resort. I have an XP Pro bare-bones (non-OEM) CD.
Voila ! It installs in under 15 minutes !
Bare bones though, it barely recognized my hardware but it was enough to bootstrap.
Then update with an XP/SP3 CD (45 mintes). Then I had to start digging on Levano site for drivers as not even my hardwired ethernet driver was working. Thankfully my USB port was, and the Thumb drives worked great to download the network drivers from Levano.
Boing ! couple drivers later I had networking, from there on it was a breeze.
I picked and chose which drivers to download, and avoided the crapware (like Access IBM Connections) ... took a couple more hours but mostly idle time.

I now have a fully driver installed XP running. There are a few glitches. For some reason the Trackpoint driver took several installs before it worked, my InnoculateIT isnt getting up to date signatures (goes to 1% and says "done" leaving 2001 signature files in place). But other then that, once I got things going it works great !

Now for the fun.,


Power On to Login Prompt: 1 min 24 sec
Login to Desktop with no wait cursors: 1 minute
No wait cursor to no more disk light flashing: 5 minutes


Power on to Login Prompt: 20 sec
Login to Desktop with no wait: 20 sec
No wait to no more disk flashing: 10 sec

It FEELS like its about 100x faster ... but even the #'s are good. I can now do a hard reboot without going for 2 cups of coffee. and it feels like its a new modern machine.
In fact it feels faster then a LOT of modern machines. even though its only a 1.6 Ghz, single processor machine. It feels born again. Now if only I can scrounge some keyboard parts for my pointer key that's wearing out.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I Love DELL - FREE Overnight shipping

I know people love to hate the big companies but I personally love DELL. If only I could find my way around their web site I'd give them an A+ but today I give them an A++ for pricing (but a C for the web site - cant have everything !)

Monday My system crashed again with ECC errors. I think I have a systematic design problem with my system as I've replaced the MB, the RAM the PS and I still get ECC errors occasionally and they get worse in time. ( btw all were replaced under warentee for free with no complaints). But after 4 years I decided to not buy into a year's more warentee (for $175) ... of course 1 month later I get ECC errors again. SO this time I'm looking for just replacing my ECC memory with NON-ECC memory so it will shut up .. (debate about if thats a good idea outstanding).

Login to DELL web site and I find some killer deals. $39 gets me 2 x 1G DDR2's of non-ECC 800mhz memory. Great deal. AND guarenteed to work with my particular model (Precision 380). Sweet. Try that at joes-cheep-memory.com.
So ok I'm doing the checkout thing wondering how I will get reamed for shipping (or worse "S&H"). Figure I'd pay atleast $20 do get 2nd day air.
But NO !

$0 for "standard"
$0 for "2nd day"
$0 for "Overnight"

What ?
Where's the catch ?
I cautiously click through to the final confirm page fully expecting a red warning to pop up that says "OH we didnt MEAN that ... " but nope.

Checkout. $0 for overnight shipping. Tax cost more !
Hot damn.

Thank you DELL.

Now waiting to see if my memory arrives today so I can try it. Atleast I'm running on 3/4 G OK in the mean time.

I still don't know if this is intentional or accidental. And I don't care.
But it would be nice if it wasn't an accident. I'll certainly visit dell.com as my first try next time I need parts.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Putting software "Softlets" online

I'm sure most programmers (either professionals or hobbyists) have this problem. I write tons of "one off" programs that eventually just get lost. These range from attempts-at-products down to one-liner scripts with everything in between. A favorite example is a very small java program that downloads streaming music into individual MP3 files. (shhh Don't tell the suits that "streaming audio" is just a text file of MP3 URL's ) Sometimes I use these programs, or I'll call them "Softlets" and sometimes I abandon them. I suspect they might have value to others even if they are not complete. When I have a coding problem the first thing I do is google the net and I get a lot of value from very simple snips of code. But how can I contribute to this Shared Mind of information ? Unless I'm going to publish a full blown product (such as xmlsh) I dont bother putting it on the net. Its too much pain. I would have to actually *document* it then make it into a buildable format (often I just run from a GUI). And let alone actually name the thing, find a web page for it, write the descriptions etc. That might take longer then it took me to write the Softlet in the first place, and the reason I write these things is I dont want to bother writing a full-blown program in the first place (or they become part of one later).

So what to do ? I'd love to point a Mini-Google at my hard drive and say "go get em", (excluding of course those directories where I do work for my employeers).

It would be nice to post these things in a wiki or blogish format, self archived and indexed with documentation AI'd out of the code. Ok maybe just a directory structure.

Any thoughts on this ? Are there any such tools to easily publish "My Codelets" web site?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

What is your investing strategy ?

Curious minds want to know ! Feel free to reply as comment or to me personally.
Presuming, of course, that you have a monthly or periodic amount of "investment capital" say like I do pulled out of my paycheck before I can spend it on beer, horse feed or saddles, where are you putting it ?

Inquiring minds want to know !!!

Depending on who you listen to or ignore these options are recommended

* "Stay to the course"
Keep dollar-cost-avaraging a monthly amount into long term diversified mutual funds.

* "Invest like wild"
The market is at a long time low, NOW is the time to invest in risky high gain stocks ! Ya baby!

* "Gold"
Gold is at a long term high. So of course you should invest in it ! Who ever heard of "buy low sell high" , its "Buy High!" because your terrified of the future !

* "Hold Cash"
Play it safe and put money in money market, or under the bed.
There's scary dragons out there that want to eat your money. Better times ahead.

* "T-Bills / CDS's"
Atleast you can get what, 1.5% ? Thats good nowadays right ?

* "Invest? Whats that !"
The economy is crashing around us, money is worthless, spend while you got em and then try to go into debt before the system collapses. Who ever dies with the most debt wins !

Monday, May 18, 2009

Star Trek Movie == Great

I saw the new Star Trek movie last night.  Summary: Great !
As an admitted avid star trek fan I *have* to see these movies, no questions asked.  But I admit that many of them have left me disappointed.  Nay, almost ALL of them have left me disappointed.  

This one, no.  Its great.  Not "mind shattering" great, but "good movie" great.  
No spoilers here, but JJ Abrams did a great job.  I was worried because on the Steven Colbert show he admitted he was not originally a Star Trek fan .. *gasp* ... how can you make  a star trek movie without being a fan ? That's like making Life of Jesus movie without being Christian!

But I was happy.  Good action, decent (although not mind blowing) plot.  Overall good characters.  A strange mix of Nostalgia, which surprised me because these were NOT the same actors (except *spoiler alert* one ...) as in any previous star trek movie or show, but they captured the essence of the characters extremely well, even perhaps better then the originals.  How can that be ? I dont know !  But every one of the main characters, including Spock , Kirk, Uhura , Chekhov, Sulo, Scotty and Bones were all just a bit *more real* and *more essential* then the originals.  Really quite amazing and almost brought a tear.

And on the other hand, my 9 year old son who has never seen a star trek show or movie, and who didn't want to go because it was going to be boring and stupid, loved it.   So somehow the show, while it had huge nostalgia points, and lots of subtle hints of the old stuff , didn't rely on them. It worked as a movie on its own.

Great job.  I hope they keep them coming ... it certainly was setup as a start of a "Next Next Generation" of movies.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

MiFi Personal Wifi Hotspot - "Kewl" or "Lame"

Saw this on the David Pogue Show on tivo

I think its pretty cool, although in some ways no different then a cell modem card for your laptop. The ability to share it is nice, say to local laptops or iphones.
But then my iphone can already get network service via cell at a flat rate I'm already paying. Having to imagine how this is better.
Avoid those stupid $15/day fees at airports ? (and hope your next hub has the same plan ...) ... Avoid the hotels "wifi" service which runs at 28.8k on a good night ?
Be the life of the party at the next geek-night at the restaurant ?

I think this is cooler the lame but not 100% convinced yet ...

Google Chrome TV ad - WTF

I now use Google Chrome for about 90% of my web browsing.
Its just clean, fast, and works. And FAST. Did I say FAST ?
Typically about 2x faster then IE or Firefox. On some pages 100x faster. yes!
On some sites it just doesn't work ( webex anyone ? wheres Google Toolbar !)
So I have to keep IE along for the ride.

I just saw this

Google is making an ad for google chrome.
Check it out.

Am I the only one who's stumped ?
What the hell is this add ? Its a bunch of kids blocks knocking around then at the end "install Google chrome". Huh ?

Man. This is worse then those Microsoft ads with Bill Gates and Jerry Seinfeld.
The article mentions that "The non-technical audience may find it hard to understand what Chrome actually is"
Thats the understatement of the world. This ad says NOTHING !!! Whats going on here ?
Am I that stupid or is a megabillion company actually going to show this and think someone is going to understand it. Well maybe thats the point ... to make you wonder WTF google is talking about.

Monday, April 27, 2009

New Music !

I just finished "Black Peter" and a few weeks ago ManSmart.

See http://docs.calldei.com/MusicMyStuff2009

I've also reorganized my music wiki pages becomes *gasp* I was getting too many songs !

Friday, April 24, 2009

The universe is magical

I know everyone has had feelings of magic and wonderment ... but this last week I had yet another installment of the inexplicable.

I got into bed and looked up at my dresser on which the TV we rarely watch sits. I noticed something which I swear was the first time I saw it. It was a small ornament made up of hummingbirds. A small porcelin thing I swear I had never seen before. I'm so sure because the day before I remember moving my watch from next to the TV to on top of my wooden watch box and there simply wouldn't have been room. So I figure Janet had gotten a new gizmo and mentioned it to her. She swears its been there for years, was inherited from her grandma. Oh well, I'm just going brain-dead, I must have simply forgotten about it ... though ... I still feel a bit unnerved because I *KNOW* it wasnt there before ... Not the first time I've totally lost memory of something thats been in front of me for years.

So I open up my Amazon Kindle. The kindle is interesting in that it has a cool "screen saver". It takes no power to keep an image on the display so when it goes to sleep it pops up a random image from its ROM. Usually pictures of famous authors or book related themes. I've had it a month and seen it cycle through dozens of images. So there I go , open up the kindle and what is its screen saver ? its BIRDS !!! Yes a full screen of hummingbirds. If I wasn't laying down I'd have fallen over. I had NEVER seen this image before on the kindle. And I know it wasn't just a subconscious thing because it has a cover, there's no way I could have seen the kindle image before noticing the birds by the TV. Its just flipping weired.

What a long strange trip its been ...

Thursday, March 12, 2009

My First Kindle - My First Day

Yesterday my kindle arrived. I read quite a bit by some standards, about 1 hour a night in bed. I dont read fast, but if you add the hours up it ads up, so I go through maybe 25-30 books a year.

I have read about e-readers for years but always thought they werent for me, even though I'm an admited tech-addict. But the kindle started to catch my eye. I still wasnt sure until a friend of mine told me he has the Kindle 1 and loves it. The kindle 2 came out last month and decided to take the plunge. The "excuse" is you'd actually save money. In a years time I may buy 30 books avaraging $20 each. If I bought them as ebooks they would be $10 each. That savings would pay for a kindle in a year.

But of course you dont buy a new tech toy to save money. In my case its a combination of convenience, and tech nerdism. I'm simply tired of ordering books and having to wait for them to get here, paying huge amounts of shipping (often more then the cost of the book) then stacking them on my desk or bookcase to read them once. I dont reread books ever. So then I have a pile of "read" books I have to find a home for. I end up sending them to my sister but I Have to put them in a box and mail them. The whole book buying and getting rid of is really a pain. Then there's the form factor. I read in bed typically and I dont like to have to use both hands. But with a paper book I have to to keep it open or it slams shut, or I have to use that squeeze in the spine trick to hold it open then hope my reading lamp on my chest doesnt slide down then I lose my place.

Finally I'm getting old and my eyes are suffering. I need mild (1x) reading glasses or I cant read a typical paperback for long.
So eyeing the kindle seems like it might solve all those problems!
I wont go into the list of features, just google for "Kindle". But the main ones that I thought would be great are

1) instant delivery, with no shipping costs no books piling up to get rid of, no packing, boxes etc.
2) Adjustable fonts! maybe I could read without glasses
3) Hold in one hand.

So I finally went ahead and ordered the kindle 2 ... Here's my first experiences.

The text/screen/font quality is awsome. Its hard to explain without reading it, but if you've never seen "e ink" you cant imagine it. Its not like a computer monitor or a PDA. The text is sharp, clear and stands out. Its by far easier to read then ink on paper (especially tiny print on cheap paperback paper). With the font set to second-to-largest I can read easily without strain without glasses. Its a joy to read

The downloading and book buying experience is great. You can buy books from the kindle itself (it comes with a web browser) but its a bit sluggish. I just went to amazon.com from my dekstop and bought a few books (free and otherwise). They appeared on the kindle within a minute. I didnt belive they would because I'm in an "Edge" area not "3G" but sure enough there they were. I love the "try" option where you can download the first chapter for free before you commit. I love the integration with the iphone kindle reader. I can read the same book on both iphone and kindle and it knows where I left off on either.

The form factor is nice. DO get a case (I got the leather case), because the screen is known to be easily scratched. It feels good in my hands. A little heavier then a paperback but lighter then a hardcover. The text-to-speach is fun but I doubt I'll use it.

Now for the negatives. There's a tad of an annoying black flash when you change pages. I am getting used to it but for the first bit I had to blink to avoid getting annoyed.
Performance on anything except reading is sluggish. If your used to a desktop or even a good PDA you'l be thinking "what is taking so long" ... But for me this isnt a big deal. This isnt a general purpose computer. Its a BOOK. And for a book its awsome.

The PDF to ebook translation is dismal. Some of my PDF's didnt translate at all readable and some were just "OK". But then its not claimed to be able to handle them well. Word documents transfered very well. The web browser is very sluggish but then I'm on an edge network (not 3G), and the fact it can do web at ALL is amazing.

The screen is smaller then it should be, considering the formfactor of the full kindle. Its obvious they started with a e-ink display and built the box around it to make up for its small size. But its bigger then an iphone and reads much better. Its not bad. I'd like the screen bigger and would give up on the keyboard for a bigger screen. The only real disadvantage of the screen size is at the font size I like I have to change pages quickly but not overly annoyingly so.

Overall, my first experience is that this works well for me and is worth it. I havent read a full book yet so I will see how it goes and post back after a month.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Last straw for Tivo

I consider myself one of Tivo's greatest fans. for 6 years I've really enjoyed my Tivo and prostelitize it at every opportunity. Even got one for my parent-in laws for Christmas. I am sad to say that I'm about ready to throw mine off the roof.

Last Nov my trusty Series 2 tivo died ... after about 5 years. Not bad, I think the HD crashed and I didnt want to muck with replacing it. At that same time my Cable company, Insight, came out with HD on Cable. Tivo now has a HD capable Tivo so I figured OK I'll upgrade to it. The Tivo HD (Series 3) is really a nice box ... "on paper". It uses Cable Cards to decode the HD cable signal so you dont have to use a Cable box. It has HDMI and Dolby digital outputs and can record and play HD quality signals. I was so excited I had to get my brown pants out.

My new tivo arrived in Dec and I was soooo happy. I even had to upgrade my Home Audio system to handle DVI. I should have seen the writing then though ... it took the cable guy 8 hours over 2 trips to finally get it working. First my cables were all old and had signal problems, my splitter/amp was degrading the signal and I couldnt get HD. Eventually the cable guy got it all working and everything was great ...

THen 1 month later my tivo started having "hicups" then crashes. Within a week it would reboot contstantly. 2 hours on the phone with several techs and the results were in ... a HD crash ... Great.

So ok a new tivo on its way. A week later a different cable guy came (have to call Insight every time to "pair" the new cable cards, you cant read the numbers on the phone to them). He knew nothing about Tivos and was very frustrated. I printed out all the directions but he didnt want to follow them instead he just got madder and madder and was about to give up when eventually magically the cards "paired" and it started working ... YEA !!!!

Ok now fast forward 1 month and THIS (2nd) Tivo starts having the same symptoms, glitches and crashes ... so I called up tivo ... and this time I knew exactly what to say to get them to agree it was bad. So ... a NEW tivo in the mail ....

The Third tivo arrived 2 weeks ago. After a 2 day process of getting it fully reloaded and synced I had the cable guy come out *again* to pair the cards. Should only take 10 minutes. 6 hours later they still wouldnt pair. He even ran a new cable across my lawn directly into the living room, and also plugged in a Insight DVR to prove I could get the channels. But on the Tivo I couldnt get all the channels. The diagnostics said the cards wouldnt "pair" with the cable company.
He even came back the next day for 2 hours and tried 3 new pairs of cards. No go.
Finally another call to Tivo and an hour later while they have me read off diagnostics and try the same things I've tried over and over and they admiteed its "probably a bad box". Great.

So my FORTH tivo in 3 months. Due to arrive today.
I noticed on the "return" paperwork they listed the replacement Tivo's as "Refurbished". I asked the tivo guy, "Can you send me a NEW one this time?"
He told me "No, we dont make that model anymore, they are all refurbished".
That is very strange as I see them for sale on tivo.com as new, and its the latest high end Series 3 HD Tivo ...

I'm holding my breath one more time. If this tivo doesnt work perfectly within 1 hour I'm gonna toss it and get a Cable Company DVR ...
I really hope I dont have to because for some insane reason I LOVE MY TIVO !!!
I love the new video streaming, Netflix integration, web integration, Picture and Audio streaming. Its really a great system ... if only the damn thing worked !!!

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Innovation Sucks

Yesterday on Bloomberg I heard a speech by a member of the Senate about how to improve the financial system. One of the comments was a strategy to "encourage more financial innovation" ... !! ?? What ?? Financial Innovation is what got us into the economic trouble. We don't need more "financial innovation" we need simpler financial structures. Basic borrowing and lending, not derivatives and complex "instruments" only financial wizards with 10 phd's understand (or claim to ... ).

This got me thinking. In my Day Job were being pushed to abandon "legacy" mobile devices and the programming styles and languages which supported these and adopt to "new" devices. Many of which actually don't even exist yet. It took 7 years to get our software running really good on the existing devices and now we have to abandon them and in a rush to please the market write all new software in an entirely different way for a plethora of new devices in new languages. Due to market forces, were not being 'allowed' to actually get good at anything. By the time a technology finally starts getting good, companies are forced to drop it and get on with the "Latest Thing" ... and start over. Innovation. It sucks.

Look around your house or office. How many things actually work well ?
How many business actually work well ?
It takes time, years, decades, to refine technology or business practices. Every time a new Innovation comes along and the market ("sparkly eyed consumers who want the newest hottest thing") we have to start over. We never get time to make things work well.

What works really well ? Cars, land-line Telephones, electric utilities.
Those have all taken up to 100 years to get right. TV is finally decent and now in Feb we have to throw it out and replace it with the new HDTV which almost nobody has and those who do complain of compatibility problems.

In the computer world, whats great ? Mainframes and Unix.
They are not "exciting" but they have been allowed to improve for 30-50 years by slow incremental progress until they are now the backbone of our economy.

What sucks ? Cell phones, Windows, "Innovative" financial markets.
Cell phones last about 1 year max, and while they last they rarely work.
Windows almost starts to get good when it is forced to rewrite itself from scratch every 5 years or so for "new features". Financial markets ... cant say enough about them.

I hate to think I'm a Luddite ... but I really think we should slow down a bit and forgo the "World 2.0" craze and just let us focus on making what we have work better, slowly, the hard way. Be a lot more cautious about tossing out the old and replacing it with today's shiny new toy. But with each new innovation, each fancy new feature, quality goes down, not up.

Unfortunately society is addicted to new toys, and as I say this my eyes are gleaming at my new iPhone ... damn it all !!!