Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The curse of the clicking hard drive

As some of you may have noticed, there has been a conspicuous lag in blog posts over the past few days. After my initial hard drive failure three weeks ago, I reinstalled Windows 7 Release Candidate to my second 1 TB drive and limped along with minimal application installations and file recovery until I got the full version of Windows 7 last Thursday.

Instead of installing Windows 7 onto that same working hard drive, I purchased a new 1.5 TB Seagate drive at the same time and did my new install on that drive. It just wasn’t working right. Windows was running slow and would almost freeze. It was taking me hours upon hours to migrate files from drive to drive and the clicking, OHhhhh the clicking, how it grated at my nerves.

Just a couple of months ago I purchased a Seagate USB 1.5 TB drive for back-ups. I had to carry it back and forth between a couple computer and to work a few times and somewhere in that first week, it developed this cyclical, repetitive CLICK-CLICK click-click CLICK-CLICK click-click … It just goes on forever. I thought about returning it to Fry’s but at the time I needed it for some files transfers and my internal hard drive had just crashed, so I just didn’t have the time or resources to dump it all somewhere while I was exchanging it. It still worked, it just made that annoying clicking.

So after I install the new internal Seagate 1.5 TB the clicking doubles. Yes, both the 1.5 TB Seagate drives click. Sometimes they’d sync up into a percussive fortissimo and sometimes they’d get off into a click-click round. Never at any time over the course of the week did the clicking get any quieter or less annoying.
And as I struggled to get all my files copied and applications installed Windows 7 seemed to go slower and slower. Finally, last night, I’d had enough. No, I didn’t want to reinstall and recopy everything yet again, but I can’t deal with a drive that slow, and I can’t deal with clicking that loud. I definitely could not do any voiceovers or music recording on the machine with it clicking like that. I gave in and reinstalled Windows 7 onto the old Seagate Barracuda 1 TB drive, which absolutely flies now, and began the process.

So that is why there have been no blog posts, no photos of last week’s events, no commentary on world news. I’ve been toiling away at bringing my machine back to life. The first hard drive that failed was a Western Digital Green 1 TB, so I thought I was playing it safe with Seagate. I can’t tell if these 1.5 TB drives are bad or if they all click this way, but I can tell you they’re slow as hell. I assumed they were 7200 RPM drives like the vast majority of internal hard drives, but they’re not. They only do 5900 RPM. I should have my info wiped off the internal one tonight, then it’s back to Fry’s for an exchange tomorrow. Maybe I’ll try Hitachi, but I definitely won’t go beyond 1 TB in size.

And thank God the clicking has stopped!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Got your 7?

Well, Windows 7 is finally here. The question is, with full retail versions going for $199, $299 and $319, is it worth the cost and which do I need Premium, Professional or Ultimate?

My emphatic answer is that if you’re into media, you definitely want to make the switch. The native support for Blu-Ray and AVCHD files makes Windows 7 a pleasure to work with. Plus, Windows Media Player now supports AAC music files, so your entire iTunes library will seamlessly integrate into Media Center. The beautifully designed media center will also then work with your Xbox 360 to stream movies and music to other rooms. It all works great.

If you just need Windows running on your home network, you’re going to be perfectly happy with Premium, the most affordable version of the bunch. However, if you have key applications that need to run in XP, Professional has a virtual XP environment, which works very well, and can run your apps. Network backup is also built into Professional. The big difference between Professional and Ultimate is language support. During my testing with Win7 Release Candidate, it must have installed 15 different language support packs. Personally, I have no use for that, so I’ll most likely go with Professional.

If you decide at any time, you need more Windows Power, Microsoft sells cheaper stand-alone upgrade packages to upgrade Premium to Pro or Ultimate and Pro to Ultimate, so you won’t have to buy the entire software package again. If you’re on a budget, you might want to go with Premium for now and wait for prices to fall on the upgrades.

Now the smartest users were the ones who jumped on the pre-sale upgrade price of $49. That price ended in July, and I’m kicking myself for not jumping on that bargain. However, there are a few ways to get around paying the full retail value.

The most obvious way is to buy the upgrade. If you have a licensed copy of XP or Vista, you can upgrade. This is the route I’ll be taking. However, be aware that just because it’s called an “upgrade,” if you’re switching from a 32-bit system to a 64-bit system, which I highly recommend you do, you will still have to do a clean install. Upgrade versions comes in at $119, $199, and $219. You can also get a 3-license family Premium upgrade pack for $149 – which is definitely the best deal around. Unfortunately of the three computers in my house, only one has enough power to run Windows 7.

In Vista, users found a loophole in which you could install an upgrade version of Vista on a new machine, but not activate it since Microsoft gives you 30 days of use before activation is required. Then they would install Vista again as an upgrade on top of itself and activate it. It detected the un-activated version as being a previously licensed version of Windows. However, I’m willing to bet that Microsoft has been smart enough to close that loophole in Windows 7.

However, fear not. If you can’t upgrade, there is still another alternative to paying full retail. Both Fry's and carry Windows 7 for System Builders. These are discounted versions meant for sale to small retail companies that build and sell computers. The catch with the system builder versions is that the builder becomes responsible for Windows support after the machine is sold to the end user. However, if you built your own machine, you're the one who is supporting it anyway. Now, how this affects the support and help you might get from Microsoft as the system builder, I don’t know. Personally, I’ve never had to contact Microsoft for help on anything, so it doesn’t worry me, but if you think you’re going to need support, this is not the route for you. The system builder versions come in at $109, $149 and $189.

Having worked with the Beta and Release Candidates, I was sent the invite to be a Windows 7 launch party host. I took a pass as nobody comes to my parties. I kind of wish I’d done it just for the free copy of Windows Ultimate, but one of my friends has taken up the challenge, so depending on how exciting/unexciting the Porsche Panamera Event is this evening, I may get the chance to stop by the launch party and snap a few photos of the Microsoft-induced festivities.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Shouldn't balloon boy just be called attic boy?

Surprise, surprise – The Canon 1D Mark IV has matched Nikon’s claim of 102,400 ISO, and it captures 1080p video at 24 or 30 frames per second. Although all prosumer camcorders can capture 1080p at 60 frames per second, most movies shot are film, which is 24fps and most television is shot on video at 30fps. It can also do 720p at 50 or 60 fps, but who cares? Why am I going to shoot at 720 if I can shoot at 1080? It’s always going to look better shot at the higher resolution and rendered down to the final resolution needs of the project.

I’d almost be interested except that it’s $5,000. The low-light test video I’ve seen looks good, but I can buy at least three HFS100 video cameras, three tripods, a jib, and a set of lights with softboxes for around that price. Speaking of which, the HFS100 got a price drop to $899 at beginning yesterday and continuing through December 31. Considering they’re throwing a 32GB SD card in with the deal, it may be time to upgrade my HF100.

Perhaps with the larger lens and sensor of the HFS100, I could capture the time traveler from the future who is allegedly sabotaging CERN’s Large Hadron Collider. Ok, actually the two nutty physicists Dr. Holger Beck Nielsen and Dr. Masao Ninomiyo claim it’s some force of nature itself, which is creating ripples back through time to stop the machine from finding the Higgs boson, or God particle.

I’m not buying it guys. I’ve watched my brother spend two years building a Shelby Cobra that came with instructions, and it’s still not running. The scientists at CERN have spent 20 years building a machine with no instructions that nobody has ever made work before. I wish them luck when they fire it up again next month, but I’m not holding my breath. They’re going to be rebuilding the transmission at least two more times – metaphorically, of course.

However, you can follow @CERN on twitter.

The cool weather in Houston has brought on another bout of allergies and sinus pressure that has once again made me wonder if drilling holes into my sinus cavities is a good idea. There’s got to be a better treatment out there than just Flonase, Claritin D and sinus rinses. I promise to redouble my research into sealing off the mucous membranes with Teflon.

One last thought for the day. A test group at UCLA has actually proved that surfing the Internet increases brain functionality – but only if you’re old and have never used the Internet before. It’s probably because the test subjects didn’t know about all the porn.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Pass the Halloween candy

It’s an exciting week. First and foremost on my mind is Microsoft’s October 22 release of Windows 7. I have been waiting for this OS since I first started using the Release Candidate in July. To heighten the anticipation, I had a hard drive crash a couple weeks ago, and I’ve been too lazy to reload my archaic version of XP Pro, which requires partitioning the drives to 130GB and going through hours of update after update to finally get back to SP3. Instead, I’ve been limping along with Win7 RC and only the bare essentials installed until I could score the full version this week.

I plan to spend Friday morning installing a new hard drive, installing a “Genuine” copy of Win7, and bringing my system back up to snuff.

Thursday evening I’ve been invited to the Houston Porsche Panamera event at Momentum Porsche. While I’ve seen plenty photos of the car online, I’m looking forward to actually seeing it in person. Porsche made a ton of money when they released the Cayenne SUV. The question remains, will they be as successful with a four-door sedan? It’s hard to predict what the public will embrace. Hopefully I’ll end up with some good photos for you guys, and I look forward to meeting some of the other members of the Lonestar Region Porsche Club at the event.

In other Porsche news, I did successfully finish installing another new water pump Saturday, and I will have a DIY video for the procedure online just as soon as YouTube decides to let it upload without an error. Although affordable 1080p cameras are now readily available to consumers like myself, it seems the Internet is still not ready for 1080p uploads. While YouTube claims it can accept up to 2GB, the 1.5GB file has already failed to upload three times. I may have to re-render it at 720p and try again this evening. Of course, by the time 1080p is finally standard and supported, I’m sure we’ll have moved on to 2k or 4k cameras or even 3D. I have a feeling video will continue to be a frustrating field for a long time.

To round out the weekend, the crew of Das Fackboot has sailing lessons. While the yacht restoration project has made slow but steady progress over the past two months, we have no clue how all the rigging works. None of us have sailed anything larger than a Sunfish, so the ASA Basic Keelboat Certification course is as much about figuring out the technical aspects of how to run the lines and repair our own vessel as it is about learning to navigate. It will also be the first test of whether or not any of us are prone to seasickness. Hopefully I’ll be able to get some photos and video of what’s sure to be an epic experience, but I can’t make any promises as I don’t know the intensity of the course. However, I can promise stories.

Now that the car is finished, and I’m miraculously caught up at work for the first time in months, attention turns back to the yacht project. When last we visited, co-captain Ben and I were able to install a missing through-hull fixture thanks to his monkey arms. I thought that was the last piece of the plumbing puzzle, but unfortunately, when we filled the freshwater tank we found that it has a leak, so that may have to be pulled for repair. We also identified that the majority of our rainwater leakage was coming through the cockpit instrument panel, so hopefully with that now sealed, we’ve ended all major threats of the boat filling with rainwater and re-sinking. Hopefully I can stay motivated this week and at least finish the V-berth wall for installation this weekend. I know whichever couple wins the coin toss for the V-berth Saturday night will appreciate having a wall between them and the head.

In other, more boring news, Twitter and Facebook and coming to Xbox Live; Canon’s releasing the most likely unremarkable 1D Mark IV DSLR this week; Rock Band is now on iPhone with Bluetooth multiplayer, so you no longer have to leave the bar to start rocking out with your drunken friends; the Feds decided medicinal marijuana is a great tax revenue generator and won’t be pursuing charges against users or distributors in states where it’s legal; and Balloon Boy’s dad got slapped with criminal charges proving there is still some justice in this world.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

An epidemic of telephobia

Skype, tweets, blogs, emails, texts – we truly live in an astonishing age of communications capabilities. But why is it still so hard to communicate? Why are so many things still lost in translation?

Up until 2007, when I wanted to talk to my friends, I picked up the phone and called them. Then suddenly, I started getting text messages. They were a fun, quick way to shoot messages back and forth while we were in meetings or at concerts – places where it would have been impossible or inappropriate to talk. However, as I began dating younger women, I found they didn’t use the phone at all. Whether they were at home, at work, or driving in the car, they would always respond with a text.

I’ll admit, texting is addictive. You can weigh your words carefully or intentionally misspell things for comedy effect. Then again, texts can be dangerous because as with emails, the tone can easily be misinterpreted, completely changing praise to sarcasm or a joke to something hurtful. People tend to be more blunt in text because you don’t have to directly face the other person’s emotional response, and you can also easily lie about what it is you’re doing and who you’re with. Even so, I happily jumped into the world of texting and never looked back. Even my parents are now sending me texts.

When I got my first iPhone later that year, I thought it was an amazing device. My texting, my tweeting, my facebooking, my instant messaging, my emailing and my websurfing were all in the palm of my hand at all times. But I did notice something that bothered me a little even back then – my iPhone really sucked as a phone. In fact, it became a struggle to talk to my parents or long-distance friends because they could never hear me.

At work, we did much of our business through email, but when I needed information right away or something needed to be sorted out, it was always a phone call that got the job done. However, as I began working with some of our younger staff on various projects, I noticed they would never make the phone call. If an email went unanswered, they just left it unanswered, sitting on their hands as if there was nothing they could do. They were hesitant to even pick up the phone and “bother” me, which I found shocking because I consider myself a fairly friendly, non-intimidating figure at our company.

In the past year I’ve seen these scenarios played out time and time again. It seems that the majority of our population who are under 25 years old are scared to use the telephone. Somehow through the advancement of technology we’ve raised an entire generation with telephobia.

I had a friend searching for 8x10” black and white developer paper. She had the names of three stores scattered from Conroe to The Heights that carried the paper, but she’d heard one was offering a great deal where you got 15 free sheets if you bought a pack of 25. She was stupefied that the stores didn’t have web sites, and instead of just calling each store for prices, she spent hours driving across town to find the deal.

My own sister (I still love you) would rather delay ordering dinner until her husband comes home than have to call and order pizza.

Phone calls are not hard. Phone calls are how you do business. Phone calls are how you avoid mistakes.

I don’t know where everyone derives this anxiety, but apparently I’m not the only one noticing our society’s growing hesitation to use the phone. Both my favorite Porsche parts shop and my favorite camera shop have notices on their web sites saying something to the effect of, “If you need immediate service or have questions, please call our 1-800 number. There is a 24-48 hour delay on emails.”

I’ve called both numbers often and asked many questions. Never have I been berated or attacked by a salesperson. I’ve ordered pizza dozens if not hundreds of times, and while they have gotten my order wrong before, never has talking to a teenager in a Dominoes or a Pizza Hut somewhere rattled my nerves and shaken me to the core.

This growing epidemic of telephobia could have serious consequences on business and the economy in the next few years. I think it’s a problem that we’re actually going to have to address. Are we going to have to start adding telephone roleplaying to organizational development courses, so that our employees can pick up the phone to call each other without having a panic attack?

I’m relieved to say that my current iPhone 3Gs works much better as a telephone than the original iPhone did, and yes, I will call you.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

102,400 ISO

I try to stay on top of camera tech, partially because it’s my job and partly because I just love gadgets. I currently use a Nikon D70s DSLR and a Canon HF100 camcorder at work. Both are prosumer type cameras, but both are quite versatile and get nice results for the multimedia work I do. However, when DSLR cameras began appearing with video capabilities, I was quite excited. I could finally stop carrying around two cameras, and I could take advantage of the higher-grade DSLR lenses available for better low-light video.

Unfortunately, it became obvious very quickly that DSLR video is still sub-par to even mediocre HD camcorders. Despite larger lenses and sensors, the low-light performance is still noisy and motion trailing is a big problem. Nikon DSLRs still shoot at 720p while Canons can do 1080p but only at a choppy 20 frames per second. However, there were whispered rumors that Nikon might surprise us all today with the new D3s.

Well, the D3s is still shooting 720p video, but there was a surprise. At first I thought it was a typographical error, but it’s not. Nikon says the D3s can shoot at 102,400 ISO.

To give you a sense of the craziness of this, most point-and-shoot consumer cameras top out at 800 ISO with very grainy results. My D70s tops out at 1600 ISO, and while the photos are passable, I would never use them for print. I just can’t believe that 102,400 ISO would create a usable photo. Then again, perhaps a chip that can pull off 102,400 ISO will make romantic, dimly moonlit shots at 1600 ISO look amazing. We can only hope.

I still wouldn’t buy it, but I am looking forward to seeing what it can do and what ramifications this new sensor design will have on other cameras in the future.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

I need to become a consultant

This morning actually reported on the fact that Bernie Madoff got into a prison fight. It wasn’t really much of a fight – mostly a shouting match with another senior citizen that resulted in a couple of shoves. Personally, I think every inmate should get to line up and punch Madoff in the face every morning and every evening. I also think it’s ridiculous that this even got reported. But what really got me was this:

this was the first known physical altercation at the slammer for Madoff — who paid a consultant for a crash course in prison culture and survival tips before he was locked up.

Really? He paid for prison training? There are consultants for that? I’m about to proclaim myself the expert on everything from mass transit navigation and survival to holiday shopping for Mom. You’ll be getting my bill.

And yes, I forgot to call my mother for her birthday this morning. Happy birthday, mom.

The folly of preventive maintenance

My Porsche has once again started sounding like a diesel truck. The six-month-old rebuilt water pump is already giving up the ghost. The OEM water pump lasted 107,000 glorious miles before making this noise and leaking coolant all over the driveway. The replacement hasn't lasted a full 7,000.

And that my friends, is about the most perfect example of the problem I've found with preventive maintenance.

Don't get me wrong, I change my oil. When it comes to fluids and filters, I'm all for regular changes and flushes. In fact, I change my oil every 5,000 miles instead of the suggested 9,000, and I don't believe for a second Porsche has really discovered a "lifetime coolant" unless they're only predicting the lives of their cars to be around 80,000 miles. I'm also vigilant when it comes to hoses and belts. I do regular inspections, and if they show wear or soft spots, I swap them out.

But it's been proven to me time and time again when it comes to spark plugs and mechanical parts like the alternator, power steering pump, water pump, shocks, struts, etc., you're ahead of the curve to just let them run until they die.

I have some friends that will swap alternators every 50,000 miles just to be on the safe side. Mine currently has 118,000 miles on it and is still putting out a perfect charge. Am I smarter to spend the money to swap it now when in all likelihood the replacement unit is just as likely to die at any time as the original?

I once had to return two new alternators in a row because while they would pass bench tests at Autozone, they weren't charging when actually installed on the car. I've seen brake pads shear off of their backing plate just days after installation. I've installed rebuilt power steering pumps that leaked as badly as the units being replaced. And now, the six-month water pump. Sure, it has a warranty, but each redemption of that warranty comes with the purchase of new coolant, new sealant, and about four hours of time on my back under the car.

One of my friends on the board argues that he can't stand to drive anything less than perfection and that constantly replacing the parts keeps your car in like-new condition. He also stockpiles tires when he finds them at a good price.

I say, if it's not broken, don't fix it.

No matter what part you're replacing, it's a game of Russian roulette when it comes to how long it will last. And as for stockpiling parts, a deal is a deal, but how do you know you'll ever need that part? How do you even know you'll still have the car by the time you need to replace the tires? I admit, that's a pretty safe bet with a Porsche since you're lucky to get a year out of the rear tires, but if you're out of town and get a flat, you're out of luck. Looks like you're rebuying those tires at whatever price the local shop wants to charge you. Meanwhile, those tires at home just keep gathering dust as they slowly rot - you've only got about five years before tires expire. After that there's serious danger that they'll separate and fly apart while you're cruising down the road.

Perhaps after we get healthcare reformed we can get some regulations and mandates in place regarding the quality of rebuilt auto parts. Are you listening Mr. President?

So that's just my two cents. You're certainly welcome to spend your money however you wish.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Someone FINALLY did it

For anyone who has ever been completely disappointed with the snail-paced DUCK tours that we've all been sucked into at some tourist trap or another, I present the WaterCar.

There is no reality left in reality shows

It was a rainy Sunday evening, and I was exhausted from the Alumni-weekend trip to College Station, so somehow I got sucked into watching the season premieres of both The Girls Next Door and Leave it to Lamas.

I can say with completely finality, there is no longer such thing as a reality TV show. Reality TV has gone on so long and become so cliché that every person who ends up on a show is just working to act like or outdo other people who have been on shows before them. Hef’s new girls are trying their best to be sexier and wilder than the previous concubines while reiterating on camera that they aren’t just copies of the old girlfriends. Meanwhile over on Renegade’s reality show, Shayne and Dakota are attempting the absolute best Kardashian impression they can muster while Lorenzo and son give angsty, canned performances. Meanwhile leatherface with the beergut is acting as crazy as possible hoping to garner at least a little of the spotlight from the attractive members of the cast.

I quit watching The Ultimate Fighter last season because the overadrenalized puds attracted by the sport have turned it into a joke with their main concerns being pulling larger pranks, causing bigger drunken conflicts, and trashing the house worse than the cast of the previous season. What happened to the mixed martial arts? And this season they’ve resorted to the same augmented “reality” as all the shows using washed-up stars by stacking their own cast with Kimbo Slice.

When are we finally going to get tired of watching people who can’t act pretend like they’re not acting?