The Deliverator – Wannabee

So open minded, my thoughts fell out…

Archive for September, 2005

Tivo…to go?

Posted by Deliverator on 16th September 2005

This has been commented on in numerous other forums, but I thought I would add my take on it. Recently, a number of Tivo users discovered that a several year old rerun of a popular animated show called “Family Guy” would not stay saved to their Tivo’s hard drive for any length of time. The show would delete itself after a few days, and any attempt to tranfer the show off the drive via Tivo 2 Go would fail with a polite message saying more or less “The content provider has requested that we screw you and we are more than happy to comply.” Users attempting to record pay-per-view content have encountered similar difficulties for around a year, but this is the first time that any prohibitions on recording have been placed upon normal broadcast content. After a few days of widespread outrage from Tivo customers, Tivo came out with a vague statement saying that the restriction was a mistake caused by “noise.” They did not elaborate on the cause, or state what measures were being taken to ensure that customers execution of their fair use copying rights would not be impinged upon in the future. Tivo has been rather quiet of late when it comes to defending their customer’s fair use rights and seems to be gradually caving to pressure from the entertainment industry. My personal feeling is that this incident was not noise at all, but rather a “test balloon” to gauge how strongly their customer base feels about this issue.

To me, this is definitely a make or break issue. I have been a Tivo customer for many years now, having purchased my first Tivo unit a few scant months after they came to market. I was willing to pay a small fortune for my first Tivo because it was an incredibly empowering, user oriented device. Since that time, I have watched Tivo change from a company where customer input was seriously considered and often resulted in the release of new features to one where innovation is stiffled for fear of incuring the rath of one media conglomerate or another. Over time, my Tivo has become less and less of an empowering device, as some features have been removed, crippled or had arbitrary limitations placed upon them. Rather than looking forward to what interesting functionality might be added with the next patch, I fear what essential function might have disappeared when next I pick up my remote. Tivo needs to grow a backbone, and quick. If they don’t, I am more than willing to take my money elsewhere.

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One more go around…

Posted by Deliverator on 16th September 2005

I took some time yesterday to look into the problems that have been occuring with the carputer’s hdd. I did a scan of the drive using IBM’s drive diagnostic tools, which revealed a fairly large number of bad sectors/clusters. I headed up to Computerstop and purchased a cheap 40 GB notebook drive to tide me over until solid state flash disks become more affordable. At their current pricing, I could buy fifteen conventional laptop hard drives for the price of a single 4 GB flash drive. I fully expect the laptop HDD I purchased to meet a premature end, but when it does, I will just replace it and slap my disk image on it and be back up and running in short order. Yeah, replacing drives this frequently is a bit of a hastle, but until solid state drives see about a four fold decrease in price, I can live with the hastle.

My research into solid state drives did turn me on to one piece of tech that I may actually buy. Gigabyte is starting a “bare” PCI powered SATA ramdisk card. If that descriptio has you baffled, I will attempt to make it clear to you. The device accepts four DDR ram modules and presents this memory to your system as a SATA hard disk. The device gets its power from a PCI slot, but doesn’t use the PCI bus for anything other than power. You run a cable from it to your motherboard’s sata controller or a SATA addon card. The card has a small battery that will keep maintain the ram’s integrity for ~16 hours. With 120 MB/sec (i/o access patern independent) transfer rates and access times as close to zero as to make no difference, this ramdisk would make a hell of a boot/swap drive. I don’t know how trusting I would be of such a device. I would certainly make frequent point in time images, keeping as many as possible should some partial corruption occur. Still the sort of performance that such a device opens up is mighty compelling. Street cost for the bare card should be in the $125 range, with enough ram to build it out as a 4 GB disk costing another $350 or so.

Posted in CarPuter, General, Tech Stuff | 1 Comment »

Free Voicemail and Web Based Fax

Posted by Deliverator on 13th September 2005

Casey and Rob clued me in to a neat free service called K7. K7 offers users of the service a free phone in the 206 area code through which they can receive faxes and voicemails. Any faxes/voicemails received on the number are forwarded as email attachments or can be accessed via their website. So, how can they afford to provide this service? Well, because of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, CLECs get paid by other providers for the termination (answering) of a phone call. Thus, every time you pickup the phone, your phone company gets a small amount of money from the carrier that originated a call. Normally, carriers are constantly making calls that terminate at other carriers and vice versa. But, K7 is a service that only receives calls and does not generate calls to other carriers, so all those termination fees, which would usually flow both ways end up flowing only into K7’s bank account and not out! This one way flow of money was distressing enough to most carriers that they protested strongly and got the law rewritten somewhat, but there is a grandfather clause for companies like K7 that were already in operation.

Anyways, I signed up for an account (a very simple process that didn’t require me to divulge any personally identifiable information) this evening. You can send faxes of your derriere and dirty voicemails to my number at:

206-203-1661

Posted in General, SWN Hacknight, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Solid State Disk Availability?

Posted by Deliverator on 13th September 2005

I am pretty sure the carputer’s hdd is going. I received a number of NTFS related blue-screens of late and attempts to reboot result in the bios not “seeing” the hard disk at all. I usually have to shut the computer down for at least a half hour before the bios will see the disk again. I have examined and reseated the eide cabling on the odd chance that there is an intermitent connection and will try replacing it next. Temperatures appear normal and the power from the Opus appears to be “clean,” so I am pretty sure the drive is at fault. This will be the third hard drive I have killed (although two were pulled from dead laptops). I have considered purchasing a Toshiba “Endurastar” drive, which is supposedly ruggedized in a number of ways. I have also been looking into purchasing one of Samsungs new NAND flash based solid state disks, but despite claims that they started selling them last month, I have yet to find a way to purchase one (or even a product that uses them). Solid state disks are really nothing new, but Samsung is a big enough player to bring enough of these to market to make them a viable alternative to magnetic hard disks in the consumer segment. In the meantime, I am looking at similar technology to Samsung’s from M-Systems. Their devices seem offer the level of robustness I am looking for, incorporating wear leveling, dynamic bad block reassignment, etc. They warrant their solid state disks for 8 years of use (3 years longer than any hard disk manufacturer), so it seems they are willing to stand beside their specs. I would still likely take some measures to try and minimize writes to the disk, but it seems like their technology would be viable for my uses. Now I just need to figure out whether their pricing is within my reach. Their sales pitches seem heavily geared towards use in military systems, which is not encouraging.

Posted in CarPuter, General | 1 Comment »

FYI – I’ll be gone for 2 weeks

Posted by Deliverator on 12th September 2005

I just purchased tickets to fly out and see my brother at his new place in Cleveland. My brother moved to Cleveland at the end of this summer in order to take a job with Progressive. My parents drove out with him to help him move his stuff into his new place, but I was too busy at the time to go along. I will be gone from the 27th of this month until the 10th of October. I will be flying into Minneapolis first and will be visiting with relatives there for a few days.

I hope to also catch a Twins game with Al and Sam. I have been to a number of Mariners games this year with my father and they have almost all been disappointing losses. Watching Ichiro and the M’s new pitcher, Felix Hernandez, have been the only two things to peek my interest. The Twins are, on the whole, far more interesting to watch. I hope I get a chance to go to a baseball game in Cleveland with my brother, as well.

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Fries and a Fill-up

Posted by Deliverator on 12th September 2005

After finishing up some work with a client today, I found myself near the UW. I decided to take a minor detour to University Village and check out the Laurelhurst gas station, one of a small number of gas stations in the Seattle area that sell Biodiesel. I found the station easily enough, but nobody was filling up at the time. I waited a few minutes, but nobody pulled in to fill up. Determined to talk with some Biodiesel vehicle owners, I decided I had better prepare for the long haul. I parked at the nearby Burgermaster and ordered some food to go. Brown bag of greasey goodness in hand, I walked over to the gas station and proceeded to stuff my face while waiting for someone to arrive. I had finished off my burger and fries, but not my malt, when I was rewarded with my first visitor. He was a guy my age and was driving a VW Jetta from Carter VW that he purchased a few months ago. He has been running it off 100% biodiesel from Laurelhurst since time of purchase with no ill effects. After he departed, I finished off my shake, threw away my empty bag and cup, checked out some informational pages on Biodiesel and took an application for a fuel card. Laurelhurst is totally unattended and members use a special card to fill up. Members get a monthly bill along with mileage information (if they input some data). Minus the friendly milkshake, I did my best to appear non-threatening as I approached another member who had pulled in the fill up. This one was filling up on gas, but had a *surprise* biodiesel powered VW at home. We spoke for a few minutes. He had only run biodiesel in a new VW as well, but seemed pretty knowledgeable about what needed to be done to older vehicles. I killed some time by calling Alex and shooting the breeze. Despite a lengthy chat, nobody else showed up at the gas station. The gas station was getting a little too dark and deserted for me to feel comfortable approaching people any longer, so I got in my car and headed home. I really would like to talk to some people who have run biodiesel in older vehicles, so I think I will make a trip tomorrow out to “The Grange” in Issaquah, another station which sells biodiesel. The Grange is near XXX burger, another good burger joint. Biodiesel can be made from waste cooking oil. Is this a sign of thi ngs to come? Buy a cheeseburger and fill up your tank at the same time?!?!?

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Jornada – It keeps going and going and going

Posted by Deliverator on 8th September 2005

One of the things that I like best about my Jornada is its exceptional battery life. I can take it with me into “the field” and never worry about whether I am going to have enough battery life to make it through the day. I rebuilt one of the standard capacity battery packs that came with the unit using cells purchased at Vetco. I get between 8-10 hours of use on this pack. I get a little less than that if I am using Wifi or my 2.2 GB microdrive the whole time and a bit more than that if I am doing something like MP3 playback from my flashcard with the screen off. The other unrebuilt pack that I own gets something more like 4 hours of life. I recently endulged a whim and purchased a rebuilt extended capacity pack off eBay. These packs hold three times the cells of a standard capacity pack and stick out of the back of the Jornada a ways. This actually serves to stabalize the Jornada on a surface and provides a easy handle while carrying or using one handed. The original extended packs got something like 25 hours of runtime, but supposedly cell technology has improved since then and these packs can get something like 35 hours of use between recharges. I just got the pack today, so we will see. I am using the excellent battery capacity monitor from www.solar.sk to monitor my usage. Given how I tend to use my Jornada, it may be a few weeks before I get a firm idea of this new pack’s capacity.

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Maintenance for now, but future plans in the works

Posted by Deliverator on 8th September 2005

Did some more maintenance on my car this week. I stopped a small oil leak, checked all fuel levels and replaced the car’s starter battey. For all of these tasks, I am grateful to the makers of my Chilton repair manual. I have found their detailed directions to be exhaustively thorough and to assume little about the experience level of the reader. Almost all the steps for a procedure are illustrated by thoughtfully composed photographs. This manual has been worth its modest price many times over. The manual’s section on battery maintenance and replacement was far better than the extremely basic one that came with the car. In my car, the actual battery is not accessible by simply popping the hood. Instead, it is located directly forward of the driver side front wheel. One has to turn the wheels all the way left and then remove a panel to access the actual battery. Provision for easily jumping or recharging the battery is made via terminal posts that are easily accessed by popping the hood, but any replacement or servicing of the actual battery is more involved.

The battery was in definite need of replacement. The car has not been turning over as easily as it used to, the alarm system’s “activation beep” has barely been audible and when listening to the radio, more alternator noise can be heard. Surprisingly, the carputer, with its highly regulated power supply hasn’t had any issues. I am really hard on my car batteries. I have emptied the battery at least a half dozen times by leaving the lights on, as well as subjected the battery to the dual parasitic loads of the carputer in suspend to ram mode and the alarm system. I probably should have replaced the battery with a deep cycle marine battery, or gone to a two battery system with a battery isolator to prevent the starter battery from being drained, but I chose to spend some money on fish, instead. I ended up buying a generic battery from Costco. It only cost me $46, so I won’t feel too bad if I prematurely kill this one as well.

I have dumped a lot of time and money into this car, so I will likely drive it till it drops, but I am already giving thought to what I would like for a future vehicle. I have given it a lot of thought and have determined that my next vehicle will run on Biodiesel.

Biodiesel is a fuel extracted from either waste (already used as cooking oil, for instance) or virgin (brand new) vegetable oil. Biodiesel, like the name suggests, will run in any vehicle with a diesel engine with little to no modification. All of Volkswagon’s vehicles are available with a TDI diesel engine that can run 100% biodiesel or any mixture of biodiesel with petroleum based diesel fuel. Older diesel engine powered vehicles, such as those commonly found in many european luxury cars have no difficulty running on Biodiesel, but need a few minor parts replaced, due to the natural rubber hoses, gaskets, feed lines, etc. in use back in the 80’s, which can corrode when in contact with Biodiesel. Older vehicles that have been running on petro-diesel for ages will probably also need their fuel filters replaced a few times at first, as Biodiesel has a cleaning, detergent effect on nasty sulfur deposits that the burning of petro-diesel can leave behind. All in all, Biodiesel is a fuel that has tremendous advantages over gasoline. Briefly:

* Biodiesel is a 100% renewable fuel source. We can make it from surplus plant oils. The current main source for industrial Biodiesel production is soy bean oil, which has few other commercial uses (soy beans are harvested for the husks, the oil is a largely unsaleable byproduct).
* Biodiesel production would give farmers another source of revenue, keeping more of our country’s money in the US economy, rather than sending it oversees to buy a Saudi prince their 101st Golden Roll’s Royce.
* Biodiesel reduces our dependence of foreign petroleum, strengthening our national security. I say the best way to fight middle east terrorism is to decrease the deep economic hold the whole region has over us.
* Biodiesel can run in many existing vehicles and the diesel engine is a well known quantity that has a long history. Diesel engines typically have much longer useable lifetimes than gasoline engines and can be rebuilt many times.
* Biodiesel can be distributed through existing gas stations with little or no modification. Other alternative energy ideas such as hydrogen powered cars would require high pressures and/or low temperatures to transport and existing gas stations would require hugely expensive retrofitting in order to offer hydrogen. Hydrogen may make sense for fleet vehicles in the near future, but I see too many chicken and the egg type problems for it to be adopted by a significant number of people in the near future.
* Biodiesel burns very clean and has beneficial effects on engine life. Because Biodiesel is produced from carbon fixating plants, there is no net increase in carbon (greenhouse gasses) emissions into the atmosphere, unlike petroleum based fuels which take carbon fixated in the earth since the time of the dinosaurs and spew it into the atmosphere.
* Biodiesel can be produced on a “cottage industry” scale from waste cooking oil thrown out by many restaurants. There are many people in the Seattle area who manufacture their own fuel and have not had to fork over their hard earned $ at the pump for years. Others still modify their engines to run on the waste cooking oil directly, so that no reprocessing has to occur. They literally go to McDonalds to fill up their cars.
* Biodiesel is available NOW at several gas stations in the Seattle area. I plan on visiting one or more of these stations in the next few days. If anyone is interested in joining me, I would welcome the company.

Posted in General | 2 Comments »

More Freecycling

Posted by Deliverator on 8th September 2005

I have been subscribed to a few local freecycling lists for a couple weeks now. It would be nice if they subdivided the lists into broad categories like: furniture, household stuff, appliances, clothes, etc. Amidst the torrent of mildly soiled toddlers clothes and pianos that need some repairs, I have managed to find a few choice nuggets. The first of these finds was a 7″ SVGA touchscreen, identical to one that I paid $300 for about a year ago. More recently, I snagged a Linksys WAP51AB access point. This access point offers both 802.11a and 802.11b service and is a direct wireless to ethernet bridge with no built in NAT or routing of any type. This is ideal for how I plan to use it, as I can have a Linux router or Monowall do all the complex networking stuff and have the wireless device just push packets. Most consumer access points simply don’t offer up enough functionality. Some third party firmwares like Sveasoft and OpenWRT offer greatly improved functionality and customization, but when it comes down to it, no consumer access point has the resources to offer all the advanced functionality that one might want (tunnels & VPNs, packet shapping and QoS, web caching, etc.).

Posted in General, Tech Stuff | No Comments »

Something Fishy

Posted by Deliverator on 7th September 2005

Hacknight this evening was quite interesting with the main topic of conversation being VOIP over Wifi. Rob is back from his extended roadtrip across the south-west US. He got as far as Texas and headed back around the time that Katrina hit, staying just ahead of the more sensible (and car equiped) evacuees from Mississippi and Louisiana. We discussed the latest goings on in Second Life – my arcade, limitations of SL’s scripting language and an interesting project called “Deep Teal” which overcomes many of these limitations by allowing SL objects to communicate with programs outside of SL for their data processing needs. We also discussed a persistent problem that myself and others have encountered with Rob’s virtual fish, namely that they keep going AWOL. I have tried “catching them in the act” by purposefully introducing conditions thought responsible for their unapproved leave taking, but have been unsuccessful. Sometimes the problem does not manifest itself for weeks at a time, but inevitably I will log in to an empty (or partially empty) Koi pond. One possible solution to this problem is to have an invisible “fish rezzer” object that sits at the bottom of the pond/tank and scans the area for the presence of the fish. If the fish goes awol, it rezzes a fresh copy and feeds it a list of waypoints. Currently, one must lay out a series of waypoints, rez a fish from inventory, move all the waypoints slightly so that the fish “sees” them, wait until the fish has discovered all the waypoints and then delete the waypoints. This can be a time consuming process, especially if it has to be repeated every time a fish goes AWOL. Rob’s fish are amongst the best I have seen in SL. If he can only iron out a few kinks I think his fish could be quite popular, perhaps enough to substantially supplement his income from Metrix. There are a number of people I have learned of (and a few whom I have encountered) who earn their RL (Real Life) living through the sale of SL objects.

In real life fish news, my gene spliced fish seemed to be acting a little stressed in their six gallon world. I have been contemplating a bigger tank for a while now, and my not wanting to kill these (expensive) wonders of modern science made the decision much easier to justify to my wallet. After hacknight, I went out and purchased a 20 gallon tank. It is shaped like an extruded hexagon and is far more vertically oriented than any other tank I have owned. The “column of water” look and distortion from the angled glass panels takes a little getting used to, but all in all, I like the effect. The Ikea quality table that I was using for the six gallon tank could never have bourn the weight of ~160 pounds of water, so I purchased a matching stand for the tank as well. Oh, and of course a tank needs a hood, so I added that to the pile as well. I also purchased a couple ghost shrimp to help clean the gravel in my tank, a niche left vacant with the death of my Albino Cory. Fish, like many a hobby, can get expensive, fast. Thankfully, a longer than anticipated consulting job today resulted in today being “a wash” – haha :)

Posted in Gaming, General, SWN Hacknight | No Comments »