Thursday, February 26, 2015

Parting ways with AMD based devices

I've been building my own computers since 2001.  My very first computer was an Epson Equity II+ (an AMD 80286 based CPU running at 12Mhz).  I've used AMD products in many computers, especially when the Athlons rocked the Pentium 4s in both speed and price.  However, the last several years my willingness to use AMD has waned.  Specifically, I had an old Intel Core2 Quad (Q9550) and I built a new, shiny (at the time) AMD FX8120 based computer.  I did some benchmarking and I found that my new FX8120 based computer wasn't really any faster than my Core2 Quad!  I was sorely disappointed.  Power consumption for the AMD is greater than the Intel parts.

I recently picked up several Haswell based computers/motherboards/parts.  I have a Chromebook that uses a Haswell based CPU.  I can get about 8 to 10 hours on my Chromebook before recharging.  Performance is surprisingly snappy for what it is.  I have a Plex media server that runs an Intel Celeron J1900 processor.  It is generally fast enough to transcode, yet it doesn't eat a lot of electricity.  I picked up a G3258 and i7-4790k CPU and built one new computer and "upgraded" the other one.  Same story.  Lots of power processing power.  Low power consumption.  The i7 with an Nvidia based video card uses about half the power as my Q9550 part with an AMD 7770 video card.  Amazing.

I pay a bit of a premium for the Intel parts, but the performance is superior.  I've gone back to using Nvidia after many years of using ATI/AMD Radeon parts.  Why?  Because more software using the Nvidia CUDA cores than the AMD equivalent.

Sorry AMD...  Maybe if you can build something that can knock the socks off my 4790k, then I'd come back.  Until then, see you later!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

CrashPlan Pro, or how a good idea from IT has gone bad...

My work laptop has a program installed on it called CrashPlan Pro.  This piece of software backs up files "the cloud".  My company's IT department has it locked down so I really have no control over what is copies up to the Cloud.  On a good day, it is a bandwidth pig.  So here are some stories with my tangles with it.

Over the weekend my kids were complaining that our Internet was really slow.  Web pages were slow to come up and the family was not happy.  I ran some traceroutes to some IPs and yes, they were really, really bad.  I was wondering what was going on, but I really didn't do much about it.

A few days later I was on a conference call.  I have an Avaya IP phone at my house.  While on the conference call people were complaining to me that I was breaking up really bad and they couldn't understand me.  I hopped into my home router and looked at the bandwidth usage and my upload was pegged...  "What is going on????  Has someone hacked into my network and stealing my data??"  My kids were in the other room watching Studio C on the BYU TV channel and I went and abruptly unplugged the Roku from its power source.  Oh, the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth!!  I checked my router.  Nothing.  Dang it!  What was going on?  What device was consuming all my bandwidth?  I looked at the statistics from my router and the uploads had been going on all weekend long!  What?!?  I saw the CrashPlan icon in the system tray and I checked and it was in the process of updating.   Hah!  I found you, you little network wrecker!  I selected to set it to "Sleep" and my network utilization went to zero!  Whew!  Problem solved.  I've had a problem with this lovely little program previously, but this time it caught me off guard.

This app has burned me more than once and I was sick of it.  Being that I know my way around a protocol analyzer, aka Wireshark, I fired it up on my laptop and I proceeded to figure out how this application behaves.  It resolves DNS for three key hosts and then it tries to connect to each one of them.  I have a DD-WRT based router and I added the following firewall rules:

iptables -I FORWARD -d 199.xxx.xxx.47 -j DROP
iptables -I FORWARD -d 50.xxx.xxx.246 -j DROP
iptables -I FORWARD -d 216.xxx.xxx.55 -j DROP

I put those rules in and my WAN utilization when back to zero.  So now I don't have to worry about putting CrashPlan to sleep while I'm working from home.  Score!

Now, here is the funniest part of the story.  This week I've been working in the office.  I've noticed that the number of files to be backed up by CrashPlan is steadily growing.  Hmmm...  Why is that?  Why isn't CrashPlan backing up files when I'm on the corporate network?  I don't mind killing my work connection (they're the ones that installed this fine piece of software onto my laptop) because this is corporate and if they want to backup my laptop, then I'll let this piece of software kill my work's bandwidth.  I fire up wireshark again and start sniffing the wire...  I look for massive uploads and it isn't happening.  Why?  I found out that someone is killing CrashPlan on the local network!  I guess all the backups are killing our Internet connection so someone in IT has blocked access to the same CrashPlan IPs that I'm blocking!  Oh, the irony.  So here is this piece of software that is supposed to be making a backup of my so very important data and I've killed it at home and my own local IT guy is killing it too.  Which leads me to ask, why am I running this to begin with if IT is blocking it?

My local user is in the workstation's administrator's group so CrashPlan will be removed from my workstation in the next week.  If IT asks me why I removed it, I will simply state the facts above.  It is killing my home bandwidth.  It is killing my local office's bandwidth and it is being blocked.  Therefore, it will never do its job.  If it isn't doing its job, then why run it?  If there were some means to limit the amount of bandwidth that it uses, or if there was some sort of location awareness on the product, or if IT would give me some control over what data I can backup, then I wouldn't mind keeping the app.  But I have no control and therefore it is useless.

Have a nice day!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Aereo - The death of a new idea

Since the United States of America turned off the analog TV signal and went digital, I lost my ability to view over-the-air content.  The simple fact is this:  I live in the shadow of a mountain, meaning the new digital TV signal is being blocked by a mountain.  If you look at a signal map, my house is in the mountain's "shadow".  Therefore, if I want to watch TV, I must get cable or satellite TV.  Even for basic cable (local broadcast channels), the fee is between $15 and $20 per month.  I don't like TV enough to pay for that.

Then along comes Aereo.  They open in my market.  Problem solved!  I subscribe for a Netflix price of $8/month and I get my local content streamed to me over the Internet, plus a DVR in the cloud.  Happy days!  Long live Aereo!

Then on June 25, 2014 the Supreme Court of the United States of America issued a ruling that effectively killed Aereo.  Aereo changed tactics and decided to become a cable operator, but on July 17th, they were again snubbed by the US Copyright Office and they weren't given a chance to operate even as a cable TV operator.

Here is what I believe the crux of the whole problem.  People are paying a lot of money for content they don't watch.  If you have cable TV, how many channels do you regularly watch?  I could care less about MTV, VH1, all the various cooking and home shopping channels.  They are fluff.  People realize that they are paying $50 per month ($600 per year) for a lot of stuff that really doesn't matter to them.  They want to get the content they are interested in at a reasonable price.  They are even willing to go without.  I am willing to pay a nominal fee to get some local channels and possibly some sports games, but I don't want more than that.

I think the broadcasters may have won the battle, but over time, the demographic will change on them.  Broadcasters will need to think about how they will appeal to a new generation of people who are willing to go without because the service being offered to them isn't a significant value to the end user.  My advice...  Cut the cord.  The more people who cut the cord, the more clearly the consumer voices will be heard.  Broadcasters are in it to make money.  So you have to reward or punish them with your money.  Sooner or later they will figure it out and follow the money.  Too bad it will now be later than sooner.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Fifth Water Hot Springs - Diamond Fork Canyon (Utah)

Yesterday was Memorial Day.  My wife is always looking for an excuse to get my fat gut off the sofa and out into the wilderness.  So she decided to take us on a hike up to the Fifth Water Hot Springs - Diamond Fork Canyon.  It is about two miles up to the hot springs and the hike is all up hill...  You can ride a bicycle up the trail, but the trail is narrow in many places.  Make sure if you do this hike, do it early in the morning and take plenty of water with you.  We didn't take sufficient amount of water with us, but we were OK.  Yesterday was nuts.  There was an over abundance of people on the trail and at the hot sprints.  Parking was non-existent.

The hike up took quite a while.  I would venture a guess at 90 to 120 minutes.  The springs are interesting.  There is one water source where the water is very hot and then there is freezing cold water coming down from the mountain.  There are some of these pools where the hot and cold water mix.  What was interesting is the cold water was on the bottom and the warm/hot water was on the top.  If you mixed them together, you had barely warm water.  It is weird to feel cold water on you foot and on you knee you have 100 degree F water.  Just an interesting phenomena.  I wish I had some photos to share, but I chose not to pack the DSLR.  We packed the "water" camera, but I'm too lazy to pull the photos off it.

If you are bored and you want a good hike, this is the place to go.  It has lots of little waterfalls.  I wouldn't mind going back and taking my camera and spending some time on the trail photographing the water.  I like long exposure water photos.  They are cool.

Talking to your daughter

Today I worked from home.  My oldest daughter is graduating from high school this year, in about two weeks.  This last semester of high school, she only goes to school every other day.  Today was her "home" day.  During lunch, I talked to her about her future.  This is a rare opportunity.  My daughter is busy with school and work.  We rarely have an opportunity to talk unless it is after 11PM.  It was a good talk.  We talked about getting married and the importance of marrying a good person with similar values.  I also emphasized that you cannot change a person that you marry, nor should you think that you can change them after you marry them.  The only thing you can do is love them and encourage them to do the right thing.  I told her that you don't marry a project.  I'm not into projects.  I'm into having a wife and she should be into having a husband.  Has my wife helped me change?  Absolutely!  But she didn't make me change.  My wife and I have had honest discussions and based on those discussions I made changes in my life so that we can have increased harmony in our marriage.  The change is made out of love, specifically my love towards my wife.

This is such an exciting and wonderful time in life.  It is like the mother bird throwing the young ones out of the nest to help them learn how to fly.  Kids when they reach that last year of high school are ready to be thrown out of the nest.  You hope that you've trained them well enough to be self-sufficient.  You know there will be bumps and bruises along the way.  But you look forward to seeing them soar high in the sky.

In just a few short months, I will have 1/3 of my kids out of the house.  The house is gradually getting bigger.  In less than 10 years, we will be empty nesters.  Wow! 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

LDS General Conference - April 2014

I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Twice a year, the first weekend in April and October, the LDS Church holds what is known as General Conference.  The last weekend in March and September, there is a meeting specifically for the sisters in the Church.  The first weekend in April and October there are five, two-hour sessions where member of the Church listen to their leaders.  It is during these two hour sessions that the general church membership is instructed by the senior leadership in the LDS Church.  I tried to watch as much of General Conference as I could this last weekend.

Overall, the messages are excellent.  I always feel uplifted.  I also feel chastened.  I realize that I can do better as a husband and a parent.  I have made some mental notes on things that I need to do in order to be a better person.

One of the talks that I remember the most was given by Elder Donald L. Hallstrom titled, "What Manner of Men?".  The story that stood out from that talk was about the man that said to Elder Hallstrom, "That's the way that I am."  How many of us are stuck, drifting?  How many of us are working to better ourselves and to become someone better?  I personally have been drifting for some time, but I want to change.  I want to do something different.  I want to be a different person.  That isn't to say that I'm a bad person (I think I'm generally a good person), but I firmly believe I can be an even better person.  But in order to become that better person, I must be actively engaged.  I must work at it.  I must set goals and work towards becoming the person that I want to become.  Without those goals, I will drift.

If you feel that you are drifting, take some time to do a self-evaluation.  What do you spend your time on?  Is that what you really want to be doing with your time?  What interests you?  What things can you work on to be a better person?  Make goals.  Work on becoming the person that you want to become.  You are only limited by yourself.  You will fail to become the person you want to become if you fail to plan to become that person.  Wishing for something won't bring you any closer to your wish.  Only acting upon your desires will bring you closer to what you want to become.  Don't be discouraged if you occasionally fall short.  That is called life.  Nothing ever goes as planned.  Just remember to take those shortcomings in stride.  Learn from them.  Then move on.  Don't dwell on the past that you have no control over, but instead focus on the present and the future.  Chin up!  The future is bright and new! 

The end of an era - The sunset of Windows XP

On October 25, 2001, Windows XP was released to the general public.  Today, Windows XP is no longer a supported operating system, joining the ranks of Windows 2000, Windows ME, Windows 98, Windows 95, Windows NT 4, etc...   Thirteen years is a long run.  XP came out less than a year after my fourth child was born.  My oldest child was almost eight years old.  What an incredible run.  I don't believe that even Microsoft understood the magnitude of XP's success on the computing world at that time.

Since then we have had Windows Vista (dud), Windows 7 (the true successor to Windows XP), and Windows 8.x (I hate that OS and I absolutely refuse to buy anything with 8 on it).  In the last four months, I have upgraded my own mother's computer (Windows 7) and my mother-in-law's computer (also Windows 7).  If you are still running Windows XP, it is time to move on.  Buy a new computer and put a modern OS on it.  Windows 7 OEM runs $139 at Newegg.com.  If you're a bit of a nerd and you want free, you can go with a Linux distribution and then run LibreOffice as your office suite.  My new favorite Linux distribution is Linux Mint.  I have Linux Mint running on some low-end hardware as my Plex media server and it runs just fine.  In fact, I'm writing this blog entry on that PC.  In 2001 there were no viable Windows OS alternatives.  Today, there are a few more viable options.  The two major options are Mac OS X and Linux.  If you don't care about a having a thick desktop, a Chromebook might be in your future.  (I have been pleasantly surprised with my Chromebook.)  Your mileage may vary with Linux as it will take some experimentation to find a distribution that suits your tastes.  I digress.

As I stated above, XP has had quite a run.  It is probably the most popular desktop OS of all time.  Today is a significant day indeed for the millions of users that still use it daily.  It is time to upgrade or install something different.  It really doesn't matter what it is, you just need to move to something that is supported.  My personal preference is 64-bit Windows 7.  I have it running on computers that have anywhere from 8 to 32 GB of RAM with as few as two cores to as many as eight CPU cores.  It is solid.  It is familiar.  It is fast.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The death of the PC (according to foxnews.com)

I am a news junkie and I regularly read the news at the beginning of the day.  I saw on foxnews.com the following story:

http://www.foxnews.com/tech/2014/01/10/personal-computer-shipments-fell-7-percent/?intcmp=features

Now, let's analyze the forces here.  The vast majority of PCs that are sold in the world run Microsoft Windows.  I have played with Windows 8 and 8.1 on a virtual PC and it is a frustrating piece of software, so much so that I have absolutely refused to buy a PC of any kind with Windows 8 installed on it.  My elderly mother needed a new computer because her PC runs Windows XP.  Windows XP goes end-of-life (EOL) April 2014.  (Note:  If you run a Windows XP workstation has your main computer, you need to upgrade to something before XP goes EOL)  My family pooled our money and bought my Mom a new computer.  Since I'm the "computer guy" in the family, I get to support my mother.  Guess what?  That new PC that I bought for my Mom was a Windows 7 PC and not a Windows 8 PC.  Yep.  They are still there and still available, although they aren't as readily available as Windows 8 PCs.  It has been hard transitioning my Mom to this new computers.  I would hate to imagine what it would be like to try and teach my elderly mother Windows 8...  (shudder...)

To the article's credit, I do believe that smart phones and tablets have come into play, but I also think that the two year decline in PC sales has a stronger correlation with Windows 8 than anything.  The new Metro UI doesn't make sense on a PC that doesn't have a touch screen.  Sorry Microsoft, but I'm not going to buy a touchscreen PC or laptop.  I don't like fingerprints on my monitor.  (As a note, I have an iPad 2, an iPad mini, and three iPod touches, and a Google Nexus 7.)  I can tolerate fingerprints on the tablets I own, but not on my computer.

Also, when it comes time to doing work, such as school work, the kids work on the PC and not on the tablets owned by the household.  There are things you can only do on a tablet.  And I haven't seen a tablet that can do what my PC can do.  My PC is old and needs to be upgraded, but if and when that happens, it will not be a Windows 8 PC.

You ask about Mac and why I haven't done that.  Honestly, I would, but the cost/form factor are a major hindrance for me.  Their laptops are $1,000+ and I am not a fan of the all-in-one form factor PC (iMac). The newer MacBook Air PCs are not upgrade-able. The Mac Pro is ridiculously expensive and there isn't much room to upgrade.  The Mac mini is cute (I have one of these for work), but you are stuck and cannot upgrade.  I am a tinker and I upgrade my stuff.  Being able to do incremental upgrades or changes for me is an important feature.

So I am caught in a Windows 7 Pro world waiting for Microsoft to understand that they blew it on Windows 8 and to right the ship.  If they refuse to make a significant change in their OS, then I will have to look at alternates (such as Linux...shudder).  As an aside, Linux is just too geeky for me, but I will do it if my Windows options don't improve.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas!

This is a short blog post.  I haven't posted for awhile.  Work and "life" have been happening and I just haven't had a chance to blog much.  I started another site recently but I haven't had a chance to do much there other than, "It is alive!"

For those of you who happen upon my blog, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!  May 2014 be better and brighter than 2013.  For those of you on the Christmas card list, it will come.  Probably arrive some time in January, like it usually does.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Turning 46

Last year I turned 46.  This has been the hardest birthday, at least mentally thus far.  Why has it been so hard?  I don't know.  Maybe the death of a parent and sister in the last two years has something to do with it.  Maybe the realization that I am not getting any younger.  Maybe the fact that I am not as spry as I used to be.   Why is it hard?   I don't know.  Any suggestions?