Thursday, March 25, 2010

Sudden death

I don't know what's going on with items in the Tom household lately, but things have been breaking with an intensity not seen in a long time.  Here is a list (possibly partial list) of things that have died in the last little bit.

  • A D-Link DSL modem.  This piece of hardware abruptly died Monday this week.  The modem has been in use between one and two years.  I'm renting a DSL moden from the phone company that I haven't sent back yet.  And boy, I'm glad I still had it.  Because when the D-Link DSL modem croaked, I was back up because I had a spare.  I bought a replacement DSL modem, but I need a back-up/spare before I can send the Actiontec modem back to the phone company.  That may be a while.  In the mean time, the rent is cheaper than the cost of the potential down time.
  • A D-Link eight port gigabit switch.  I've had this one for a while and I was surprised that it died.  One day I heard a pop noise, but I didn't realize where it came from.  Everything seemed to work just fine.  Then a day or two later the switch just died.  When I felt the power supply, it was really hot.  So I unplugged it.  I suspect the popping noise came from the power supply and it probably toasted my switch.  I had a port die on the switch several months before it completely died, so it was probably on its last legs.  I suspect I've had this for five or six years.  I had a spare, but since I'm now using my spare, I don't have a backup.  So I need to eventually replace this before I actually need it.
  • A Panasonic over the range microwave oven.  Manufactured sometime in 2004.  I think the magnetron (the piece that makes the microwaves) is going out on it.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn't.  The symptoms for nonfunctioning is the oven will run for about 3 seconds and then abruptly stop.  I never loose power.  (I had the loose power problem just over a year with this microwave.  That was an undersized fuse in the thing going out which was replaced for $100.00....)  It will run and stop after just a few seconds.  Bleh!
  • An Asus A7V266-E motherboard.  This motherboard was purchased around the time of September 11, 2001 to replace my ancient Pentium (yes, plain Pentium) based system that I put together several years earlier.  This is the first motherboard of my first system that I've ever build.  And since then, I've built all the rest of my computers.  This particular motherboard uses an old 486 style CPU fan to cool the VIA northbridge.  The fan on the northbridge finally puked on me.  I looked for a replacement CPU fan from that fan manufacturer, but because it is so old, they no longer make the CPU fan.....  While this isn't a recent failure, it is a failure nontheless.  And while I'm moaning about failures, I might as well add this one in here.  Yeah, the system is ancient, nearly 9 years old.  But you know what?  It still worked and ran.  And when you are using old hardware for a home PC lab, you'll take just about anything.  Like watching an old friend on life support die.  Painful.  But sometimes you have to literally pull the plug.
  • OfficeMax chair.  What the heck?  Why are you adding a chair?  That's not electronic.  Because the chair lasted about a year before giving me problems.  I suffered with it for about four to six months and finally, I had it.  So I went and bought another chair.  This new chair is OK, but it makes my tailbone hurt.  You never win, do you?
  • Bosch dish washer:  The motor/pump on this thing went out.  Less than one year old.  And it started acting up six to eight months after we bought it.  The freakin' pump went out!!  What the heck?!?  Thank goodness the unit was still under warranty and we got the pump replaced for free.  But why did that go out after such a short amount of time?
I'm sure I've got more stuff that's died on me, but this is what I can remember.  The thing that ticks me off is that you pay good money for stuff and then it breaks on you.  For example, the microwave.  I think I paid something around $400 for that fine piece of electronicness.  And all I get is six years of service out of it?  And the dishwasher?  Not even a year and the motor/pump goes out.  What's up with that, eh?

The fan on the motherboard.  I see that happening.  I just wish Asus would have used a different method to cool the northbridge than using an electric fan.

The chair.  OK, maybe that's a hint that I'm fat and I should go on a diet.  But the chair should have lasted longer.

The switch and the DSL modem:  Can you say, "No moving parts"?  How this stuff died is beyond my comprehension.  Other than the fact that D-Link used crap parts when they made their equipment; parts that are cheap to keep costs low.  When you make stuff using low end components, you're asking for trouble.  I'm sure D-Link engineers their stuff to get it through the warranty period, but who knows how long beyond that period of time?  I once heard that hard drives are engineered to last three or maybe five years.  After that, they fail.  So make backups of that important information before it is lost.

So what's next?  Well, I suppose that my hot water heater is the next item on the watch list.  My current hot water heater is 9 years old.  I had the thermostat on it replaced on it two years ago because it was leaking gas.  I've been told if you get more than six years out of your hot water heater, you're doing good.  So this one should die any time.

So what caused all this failure?  Was it all just crappy design?  Or was it sun spots?  Or is it the radon gas in my basement?  Who knows what is causing the failures in my house.  Stuff just happens.  Nothing lasts forever.  And it is disappointing to pay good money to have things wear out and die after just a few short years.

When is 50 gallons of hot water not enough?

When you have a teenage son.  I told my son to take a short shower.  To me a short shower is about 10 or 15 minutes.  45 minutes later he wandered out of the shower with the water coming out of the tap luke warm.

Crap.  I've got five other kids that need to get in there and have showers or baths.  And my son sucks every last ounce of hot water out of the system.  Great.

Next time, he may get the water cut off at the five minute mark.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Home PC upgrade - part 2

The home PC upgrade is making progress.  The next item on the shopping list after the CPU and power supply upgrades consisted of a video card upgrade.  I accomplished that two weeks ago.  I put in an ATI based 5770 graphics card with 1GB of RAM on board.  I wanted a 5830 based card, but the graphics chip for that card is relatively new and cards are hard to come by.  So I went with the older 5770.  It isn't too bad.  It is significantly more powerful than the GeForce 7600GT that it replaced.

So have I noticed any differences?  Yes.  My son and I play flight simulator.  We have Microsoft's FSX and also X-plane 9.  With both games, we can crank up the complexity and the video card eats it like a goat will eat grass.

So what's next on the list?  I need the following:

  • More RAM
  • Two 1TB hard drives to replace the 250GB and 500GB drives in the system
  • Windows 7
The drives will probably come next.  The RAM and Windows 7 purchase will be made at approximately the same time.  The computer currently has 4GB of RAM.  I'm going to max it out with 8GB and then get Windows 7 64-bit installed.  Windows XP can't use the addtional 4GB of RAM, but I can use the extra 2TB of disk space.  Eventually one of the new hard drives will be used as the master hard drive for Windows 7.  Western Digital makes a 2TB drive, but that drive is still expensive.  If it drops in price, I'd like that drive to be my main drive.  So I may end up with a 2TB and 1TB drive instead of two 1TB drives.  I currently have two 1TB drives in the system and I love it.  You can never have enough disk space.  And when you do, you just end up using it.

Last night I was thinking to myself, why am I spending so much money on an upgrade?  I was at Wal-Mart the other day and I saw a pretty decent eMachines computer for just under $400.......  It had a multi-core CPU, 6GB of RAM and a 750GB hard drive.....  Hmmm....  Why am I doing this?  I guess I like building stuff.  I don't know.  A frustrated Lego builder?  I haven't purchased an assembled computer in probably a dozen years.  All the other computers that I have, I have pieced together myself.  Yup.  I'm a geek.  Pure and simple.

Toyota recall - Part 3

So last week I took the Camry in for a 15,000 mile service.  They had a couple of recalls on the gas pedal thing.  They put the reinforced shims on the gas pedal, they shortened the gas pedal arm (?) about 1/2 an inch, and then they reprogrammed the computer.  The computer reprogram was the brake over-ride so if I have gas and brakes both depressed, the engine would reduce power.

So, any differences after the changes?  The gas pedal still feels the same.  The shortening of the pedal is unnoticeable.  The gas pedal seems a little bit more on the sensitive side.  The car seems a little more peppy to me on the lower end of the RPM scale.  That could be the affects of the shortening of the pedal itself, but that's my perception.  For the brake override, that seems to work.  Before the recall, I put on the gas and the brakes the the engine was still pushing hard.  After the computer reprogram, the engine power will decrease.  Once you release the brake pedal, normal power resumes.  Kinda cool.

Is there a problem with Toyotas?  Honestly, I really don't know.  The runaway Prius story in California makes me wonder what is going on.  And I will be very interested to read about the results of the engineering team's testing.  Newer cars have a black box similar in nature to black boxes in airplanes.  I'm sure that the engineers will extensively review the data from that black box.  I hope that Toyota does the right thing for this guy and fixes his car - brakes and all - for free.  If anything, they should fix it for free for PR reasons.

I'm on my second Toyota.  The cars have been built solidly.  The first car I had was a 2003 Corolla and it was a magnificent car.  My 2009 Camry is a lot like my Corolla was like, except even better. 

With the runaway car issue, I'm mostly concerned about my son and his reaction to a sudden acceleration problem.  My Camry has a five speed manual transmission, something that is extremely rare in a Camry.  We've told him that if he has that problem, to simply put the car into neutral, pull over and turn off the car.  And with the brake override, he could use the brakes to slow things down.  But the Prius should also have a brake override system and it didn't work in the California Prius incident, so who knows.  Best bet, put in the clutch, put it into neutral, pull over and turn off the car.

Will I buy another Toyota?  Probably.  I think the overall quality of Toyota cars is better than the American cars.  And I think Toyota will figure out the root cause of the problem and take care of their customers.  Many of these problems, especially intermittent or rare computer related problems, are quite difficult to troubleshoot and diagnose.  I know because I've worked in tech support for over a decade.  The "easy" problems to solve are the readily duplicate-able problems.  The harder ones to solve are those that are rare and random.  This issue seems to appear in the latter case - rare and random.  Hopefully the Prius in the California incident will provide Toyota the details that they need to fully understand the root cause of the problem.

Gall bladder surgery - 22 days and counting

It has been three weeks since I had my gall bladder removed.  And how am I doing?  My answer is, "Why didn't I do this sooner?"  :-)  Seriously, though, it hasn't been all that bad.  The worst part was the first week.  I wasn't in pain, but I wasn't comfortable.  The second week I felt quite a bit better and this week I'm even better.

So any side effects?  Some.  The bowels can get a little loose at times.  But it hasn't been too bad.  I'm still taking it somewhat easy on the food that I eat.  I've been trying to eat lots of greens (salads and the like) and I've been venturing into some other foods.  So we'll see what happens.

This week I also started to exercise.  I got on the treadmill and went slow.  It was good.  It is amazing how much better you feel once you exercise.  And this is no different.  So life is getting back to "normal".