Aah I'm late.

Tuesday, June 03


From The Toybox

I've been tied up with work (and trying to catch up on sleep) the last couple of weeks, hence the recent lack of posts.

But I have picked up a few new toys.  Mostly they're just sitting here until I have a chance to play with them, but I do have some first impressions.

Sony Xperia Z Ultra + Sandisk 128GB microSD Card

I was intrigued by the Z Ultra when it first appeared, but it was a bit expensive for what it offered.  And at the time I'd recently bought a Nexus 7 and a Nexus 5.  Sony recently cut the price by 25%, and I've managed to scratch up my Nexus 5 somehow, so I decided to take the leap.

This is the first Android device I've bought not sold by Google, so (a) it's the first to support microSD cards and (b) it has Sony's UI overlay on top of stock Android.  I picked up Sandisk's brand new 128GB microSD card to go with it.  Sony only lists support for cards up to 64GB, but the card works perfectly.

It's a huge phone, with a 6.4" 1080p screen, but my real use for it is as a mini-tablet.  For that purpose it's almost perfect.  The screen is bright and sharp, performance of the Snapdragon 800 CPU is all I could ask, and Sony's UI is unobtrusive.  I loaded Nova Launcher on it anyway, and that was quick and painless.

It's easier to list the handful of flaws than the catalogue of things Sony got right:
  1. There's no camera flash.
  2. The headphone jack is at the top right rather than the top of the device.
  3. Sound is a bit tinny - but then, it's waterproof, which makes things tricky.
  4. It only has 16GB of onboard storage.
Of those, only the storage bothers me.  Android's support for removable storage is...  Limited.  Frankly, broken.  There's no general way to store apps or arbitrary app data on an SD card.  But the big three eaters of space on my other devices are BeyondPod, Audible, and Google Play Music, and all of those support SD cards.  (Play Music requires Android 4.4 for this; fortunately, Sony have been good about updates, and after a few reboots I had the Z Ultra running the latest KitKat release.)

With those taken care of, the 16GB - about 11 real GB available after the operating system, restore partition, and stock apps - is just enough.  I installed all the critical stuff, like Final Fantasy I through VI, every Kairosoft game so far translated into English, and the thousand-odd books in my Kindle library.  Turns out that the biggest remaining space eaters are my subscriptions to Analog, Asimov's, and F&SF.  For some reason - apparently unmitigated incompetence - the average issue, while being almost pure text, takes up 80MB.

Physically, the device looks and feels like a small slab of dark glass; it's very thin, only about a quarter of an inch, which contributes to this impression.  Very solidly constructed and designed with a certain minimalist elegance.

If you're in the market for a huge phone or a tiny tablet, the Z Ultra is going to be hard to beat.

Western Digital My Book Live 8TB

I have a couple of LaCie 5big NASes.  I bought one with 10TB of disk included, and while it was expensive, it worked very nicely except for a certain lack of performance - which turned out eventually to be a problem with my network switch, and not am issue with the NAS at all.

I bought another 5big NAS without disks, and it sucks.  The physical UI of the 5big consists of a glowy blue button on the front, which flashes red when it breaks.  You manage the device through a web interface.

If you buy a diskless 5big NAS, this doesn't work.  In any way whatsoever.  It's a $350 sculpted aluminium paperweight.  One of the most useless and worst-designed devices I've ever bought.

The Western Digital MBL8TB isn't anything special; it's similar to WD's other two-disk external storage widgets, whether USB or networked.

But it distinguishes itself from the 5big in two important ways: First, it was on sale and cost only a little more than the disks it contained, and second, it actually works.

It took a few minutes to set up - it picked up an IP address from DHCP, and the web UI worked fine.  It does about 30MB per second reading or writing.

That said, unless you also find it on sale I wouldn't recommend it. WD's newer My Cloud Mirror and My Cloud EX2 - apparently the same updated hardware but targeted at home and business users respectively - are faster and only a little more expensive at list price.

Crucial M500 960GB

It's a 960GB SSD.  It's not made by OCZ.  It was, by strange coincidence, on sale.  (It's just been replaced by the M550, which is slightly improved but also more expensive.)  It wasn't cheap, but it means I don't have to fuss about with a small C drive on my Windows system.

Lenovo PX6-300D

This is another NAS.  It's diskless, like the LaCie Paperweight, with six hot-swap bays.  But it has a little LCD screen and buttons you can push instead of a big blue light of uselessness.  It runs Linux, and has management software by EMC.  

It cost over $1000 when it first came out; it's currently on sale for $550 on Amazon, and I picked it up for A$419 including sales tax and delivery.  Benchmarks put it at around 95MB/second, which is close to saturating a gigabit ethernet link (of which it has two).

I don't have it set up yet, but should have it working in the next couple of days unless it turns out to be another expensive paperweight.

Update: And now it's gone back up to $900.

Steelseries Apex Gaming

Just a keyboard, albeit one with colour-controlled backlighting and an extra 26 function keys.  I spilled a drink on my old keyboard and the Z, 8, and 9 keys stopped working, which was kind of awkward.

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Friday, May 16


Where's Pixy?


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You don't truly appreciate how complex a machine is until someone hands you a pile of parts and a spanner and tells you to put it back together.

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Thursday, May 15


Spam Spam Spam Spam

One of our spam filters wasn't working due to a network configuration error.  Hence, spam.  Lots of spam.  Spamlots of spam.

Should improve now.  There's still a DNS hiccup that I'm waiting to correct itself, but I can't hurry that along.

Update: DNS hiccup should be fixed now.  Double-fixed soon.

Update: There we go, double-fixed.

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Wednesday, May 14


So, Pixy, How's Your Month Been?

Which is worse, kidney stones or Adaptec RAID controllers?

Hard to say.  Both lead to sleep deprivation and intense pain, but Adaptec RAID controllers do not literally cause...  Uh, I'll just cut of the metaphor at that point if it's all the same to you.

Let's just say it could have been better.

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It's Alive!!!

Sorry about the outage.  We got hit by a meteorite and reduced to our component atoms.  It's taken us this long to reassemble into functional molecules.

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Thursday, May 01



That Dell 24" 4K monitor is currently on sale for $1019.  But the sale ends today.  But I've just been paid, so today is actually a good time for me to buy it.  But I still haven't decided whether I'd prefer the Dell or the (lower quality but more versatile) Samsung.

On the fifth hand, the last couple of times Dell have had this monitor on sale, the end of the sale was followed soon after by a permanent price cut.  (From $1699 to $1499 to $1199.)  So it may be selling for $999 soon anyway.

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Monday, April 28


On The Subject Of The Higgs Boson And How We Know For Certain That All That New-Agey Spiritual Crap Is, In Fact, Crap

Sorry, jump forward to about 34:00 to get to the delicious creamy filling.  I did have that working, but now it doesn't want to behave.

Though then you'd miss the chocalatey coating, with tidbits like the fact that the amount of energy in the particle beam of the Large Hadron Collider is equivalent to a freight train moving at 100 miles an hour.  (Which is why the thing is so big - freight trains have lousy turning circles.)

In essence, any hypothetical event - say, faith healing - can be reduced to particle interactions under Quantum Field Theory.  People are made of protons, neutrons, and electrons, so whatever happens to us has to interact in some way with those particles.

We know the properties of the known subatomic particles, and none of them allow for faith healing.  So if faith healing were real, it would have to be carried by a new, previously unknown particle.  And under Quantum Field Theory the properties of that particle would be constrained by the very fact that it interacts in normal, perceptible ways (curing illness) with normal everyday matter.

The trick shown here is that the same equations that describe this hypothetical interaction also describe how new particles are produced in particle accelerators like the Large Hadron Collider.  And the constraints on the properties of our hypothetical faith healing particle include a constraint on its mass.  And for our hypothetical particle to interact in perceptible ways with everyday matter, that mass would be low enough that existing particle accelerators would generate it in quantity.

And yet, they don't.

In other words, any such particle would already have been found and catalogued, and the mechanism for faith healing discovered.

Which means that Quantum Field Theory can be correct, or faith healing can be real, but not both.  The evidence for Quantum Field Theory is vast; if it were wrong, you would not be reading this, because computers and fibre-optic links simply would not work.

This doesn't mean that there aren't exotic undiscovered particles that show up at very very small scales or at very very high energies.  It doesn't mean that we won't find such particles and harness them in advanced technologies.  It just means that we know for certain that they play no direct role in our everyday lives.

There are known unknowns in physics; we don't know what dark matter is, and dark energy came as a complete surprise.  And there are almost certainly unknown unknowns.  But Quantum Field Theory tells us where these unknowns lie, and it's not in our day-to-day world.

Which means that not just faith healing, but anything that affects people in perceptible ways, that disagrees with known physics, is known to be untrue.

So bigfoot isn't ruled out (though it clearly doesn't exist), but ghosts most certainly are.  Acupuncture isn't ruled out (though meridians don't exist), but crystals are just pretty rocks.  And so on.

We reject all that stuff anyway because it's unsupported by evidence and contradicts well-tested scientific theories, but Quantum Field Theory tells us outright that it cannot be true.  If the internet exists, then psychic powers do not.  If you have an iPhone, you do not have a guardian angel.

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Monday, April 21


A Serious Question

What the hell is it with Democrats and totalitarian iconography?  They don't even seem to care whether they steal from communists, fascists, or movie posters for 1984.

The Hillary poster in particular seems to come from some weird alternate universe in which Eva Peron was an admiral of the Imperial Japanese navy.

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Saturday, April 19



So, a reservoir in Portland is to be drained because someone urinated in it.  Essentially, they're using 38 million gallons of water to flush the loo.

This is...  Something of an overreaction.  Apart from the ick factor, and the possibility that the phantom micturator has an implausibly infectious UTI, the toxic substance in urine is urea.   And if the entire population of Portland emptied their bladders into that one reservoir, the concentration of urea would still be undetectable by taste or smell and below the allowed limit.*

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