Back in a moment.
Thank you Santa.
Tuesday, July 29
Stupid review of the day is up now at Game PC. They set out to discover whether Xeons - which are Pentium 4s with a couple of extra pins - can compete with Pentium 4s - which are Pentium 4s without the extra pins. They start by noting that Xeon based systems are more expensive because Xeons cost more, and follow this astute observation by pointing out that dual-Xeon systems cost more again because now you have to buy two Xeons.
Never would have guessed.
They then proceed with the usual pointless benchmarks. Look, if five systems which differ only in the processor get the same score - plus or minus half a percent - then I'd lay odds that the limiting factor is somewhere else. Like - oh, say, the video card. (The benchmarks are games. But that's a given, I suppose, given the name of the web site.)
Pixy's tip: Get an Athlon system - a 2500 or a 2800. Save yourself a thousand bucks, easy, which you can then send to me.
Thursday, July 24
Holy standard copier paper, Batman! My local computer store is selling colour laser printers for $1299! (Australian dollars, that is.)
It's only 1200x600 dpi - and I was holding out for 1200x1200.
It's Windows only - and I want Postscript. But with a bit of scripting, I can automate Postscript to PDF conversion and have that print, so I can pretend it's a real printer.
Watch Pixy Misa struggle with temptation...
About two years ago, I said that Linux wasn't ready yet for the average desktop user. It was at least a year, more likely two, from reaching that point.
It's hard to find something bad to say about such a polished product. The email client on the Mozilla-based "Lindows Internet Suite" browser is configured by default to "check spelling before sending", which is great for my aunt, but I found highly annoying. It can be turned off, hopefully.It's all there. It all works. And if it's not on the install CD, the Click 'n' Run feature provides nearly two thousand applications that you can download and install with a single mouse-click. This includes Nethack, the ultimate adventure game, which is still missing from RedHat as of version 8.0. (I have yet to install 9. Sue me.)
The notebook's internal Lucent LT-WinModem wasn't recognized. But then that piece of crap is not recognized by any other non-Windows operating system, not even by those that have a winmodem driver. Creating and establishing a dial-up connection worked well when using a PCMCIA modem.
It's not a Linux for the hard-core geek like me. I'll continue to build my own kernels and compile my own applications. But for those looking for a good, cheap desktop OS with some Windows compatibility, this is it.
I'll get a copy myself and take a further look. I'm sure one of the computers around here needs a quick scrub and reinstall.
Wednesday, July 23
Geek site of the day is Ars Technica.
This isn't your average geek website. For one thing, the writers have some grasp of the English language: they can spell, they can use apostrophes without making me wince, and their grammar at least resembles what I remember learning at school. Though their use of the word who're as a contraction of who are raised eyebrows both with me and with dictionary.com. (Side note: a search for w$h%o!r'e finds... What you'd expect.)
For another, they can talk intelligently about the relative efficiency of the issue queues in the vector units of the PowerPC G4e and 970 processors. With pictures and everything.
I wandered into their web forum - and then backed out fast. There are over 5 million posts in the database, and more than 800 users online right now. I just don't have the time.
Or maybe it's just my ISP again. For 15 minutes I couldn't establish a TCP connection of any sort, though existing connections still worked. Traceroute worked. Ping didn't. (!)
If they keep this up, I may decide to switch to another company. Oh, wait...
Monday, July 21
Apple have introduced a new package called Soundtrack. It's a music creation system like Sonic Foundry's Acid, which is what I've used to make what you'll find here.
Two things occurred to me when I found this product: First, how much does it cost; second, where am I going to get loops for it? (Loops are the little snippets of sound that you can assemble into music: A particular chord progression on an acoustic guitar; a two-second drumbeat sequence; a synth arpeggio.) Sonic Foundry have a lot of loops available. What will Apple provide?
As to the first question, at $499 it seemed a bit pricy... Until I realised that I'd come to Apple's Australian web site, so that was my dollars, not US dollars. US price is $299, which is pretty reasonable; ACID Pro 4.0 sells for US $399, though you can get the very capable Acid Music 3.0 for just US $79. (Currently US$1 = A$1.50.)
As for the loops, Soundtrack comes with a library of 4,000 loops. That's pretty impressive; they come on a DVD-ROM and will take up 5GB of your hard disk. Not satisfied with that, Apple also fully support Acid loops - so my existing loop library can be used in Soundtrack.
Since Acid is the only software - apart from games - that I had to run on Windows, this is a major breakthrough. I can now do all my work on Unix - MacOS X on the desktop, Linux on my servers. (The database system I use isn't available for MacOS X as yet.)
What a pity then that I don't have the $5,599 for that dual G5 Mac. Sigh.
Hey, Apple! Would you like someone to write a really in depth review of your latest systems? No, thought not.
Sunday, July 20
These days, when a web site won't load, often the first thing I think is:
Oh shit, I hope the problem is at my end.That's because I'm now hosting a few sites on a dedicated server in the U.S., and I'd much rather my ADSL connection at home drop out than that the users and visitors to those sites get turned away.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a good weekend to be a network engineer. There's a security hole that's been discovered in Cisco routers, which are a major part of the Internet's infrastructure, and techies everywhere are scurrying to patch them before some script kiddy causes havoc.
Whether either one of those is responsible I cannot tell, but this last half hour I've been suffering up to 98% packet loss here. Fortunately, it is just me, according to the remaining 2% that struggle through, battered and limping, to tell me that the rest of the world is still out there.
So for all my readers (hi Susie!), this is Pixy Misa (who these days only does weekend tech support on a voluntary basis) signing off in hopes that the less fortunate will have this mess fixed by morning.
For those hard-core thrill seekers, try being a network engineer this weekend.
Fortunately, they stop whining long enough to take stock of their current Top 10 Tech Gadgets.
Swaine Manor, one of the best computing columns around, has come to O'Reilly Network. Good thing too, as I haven't bought Dr. Dobbs (Michael Swaine's regular home) for months. [He should stick to commenting on computers, though. — Ed. Having now read his home page, I'd have to agree.]
They also have a short article on BitTorrent, the nifty file-swarming application. The article introduces the term idempotence, which is a very useful concept that more programmers need to understand, dammit! Uh, sorry...
It would appear that one of the many bad places to be a network engineer right now is British Telecom, where techies trying to prevent a Denial of Service attack instead created one of their own.
The evil and irrelevant SCO is being evil and irrelevant again. I think it's time that SCO went quietly into the night.
Designtechnica reviews a 30 inch Sony LCD television. If anyone else has a 30 inch LCD TV that they need reviewed, please let me know.
(Thanks again to freshnews.org for their automatic Geek News aggregator.)
If you're using the PostgreSQL database for a project - perhaps running a web forum with phpBB - here are three handy tips to improve performance.
1. In /etc/fstab, set the noatime option on the filesystem that holds your databases. By default, Linux will record the last time a file was accessed (useful if you're doing archival backups). For a database, where small parts of the file are accessed constantly, and particularly for a database like PostgreSQL, which creates a fair number of files, this generates a significant number of unnecessary disk writes. (This tip applies to pretty much any database; I've done the same thing to good effect on the Progress servers at the office.)
2. Check the -B parameter you are using. If you haven't set -B, PostgreSQL will only allocate 512KB by default, which is absurdly small for anything but a trivial database. The number after -B is the number of 8KB buffers to allocate. Be generous. (Again, this tip applies to pretty much any database. Linux will cache previously read data for you anyway, but the database buffers are likely to be more efficient, particularly if your database is intelligent about combining writes.)
3. Upgrade to 7.3. I'm not sure how big a difference this makes, but I did it anyway. This is rather more involved, as you will need to backup your databases (use pg_dumpall) and restore them (use createdb to make the empty databases, and use psql to reload the backup file). (This tip applies to most free software. Since changes tend to be incremental when you're not marketing driven, new releases are usually better than old. The rule about letting someone else test x.0 releases for you still holds.)
These three steps will turn a disappointingly slow web forum that puts a substantial load on your server into a sprightly board that hardly makes a dent on your load average.
(Now I just need to do something about Movable Type. Since it generates static pages, it's always fast for readers, but it's a little slow on the back end. Especially if your Secret Project X™ (remember that?) involves loading up 2045 individual posts.)
Tuesday, July 15
When I get to work tomorrow, there'll be a terabyte of data waiting for me to analyse.
This should be fun...
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