Monday, November 30, 2009

Heat Sinks

So I had promised to keep you all updated as I go through the Linux II the Revenge build, so here is the latest. The latest is: rocks. Frostytech is a website that reviews CPU heat sinks. That's all it does. But it does it well. They review their coolers in terms of noise and thermal performance (which is the whole point of a cooler, after all) and even provide an up to date top 10 list. Turns out that the coolest heatsinks are not the most quiet, which is to be expected. If you hook a Dyson vacuum up to your system you'll keep it pretty cool, but it'll be a bit noisy. Also turns out, to my regret, that the beautiful Zalman heatsinks I was looking at are not rated anywhere nearly as quiet as I had hoped. At high speeds they're just as noisy as the stock fans that come with the CPU's! They cool the CPU a whole lot better, but since the whole goal here is to be QUIET, and since I'm not likely to need to do a lot of overclocking on the Linux box, it seems Zalman is not for me. So instead I'm going to go with a Scythe Zipang 2. No, I have no idea what Zipang means. Most of the other coolers that Scythe makes have names like, I kid you not, the Katana, the Ninja, the Shuriken, and the Big Shuriken. Given the options, I'm just as glad the one I'm going for has a name that sounds like it came from Ikea instead of Dawn of the Ninja. The Zipang has very good specs for both noise and cooling, and costs only about $10 more than the Zalman. On the down side, it's no where near as cool looking:

13 Hours and Counting

My project gets moved to production on Friday.  Or at least, it will if I keep putting in hours like this.  I'm still at work.  Still testing.  Still getting documents all lined up for approval and whatnot.  I would have had a fairly long day today, except that the third party system we are implementing is actively gaslighting me--it tells me things have failed when they have actually succeeded, which took a while to figure out.  I'm not sure whether it's just being stroppy or whether it's just confused because we've done so much stuff in the test system at this point (some of it very ill-advised just because part of testing is making mistakes) that it's hopelessly confused.  I imagine it saying, "I don't know what the truth is anymore, dammit!  Just leave me alone!"
One day down.  Only 18 more days until vacation....

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Speaking of Carl Kassell

I heard my favorite episode of Wait Wait Don't Tell Me on NPR today. It has John Cena, who I guess is a famous pro wrestler, as the guest. It turns out he is remarkably well spoken and funny, and I laughed out loud. If you've got ten minutes free, check it out here.

LInux Box 2, the Revenge

A while back I posted about building a linux box, then turning it into a Windows box (for my wife), then refurbishing a Very Old system into another linux box. Then I shut up (about that). Well, now it's back and this time it's serious.

So here's the thing. The old linux box works fine except that 1) it's too old to run some features (such as the Ubuntu desktop and high speed browsing, necessitating the use of the XFCE desktop environment) and 2) the mobo has a bad fan that results in system reboots every 30 minutes or so when it's under any kind of load. The first one is annoying, the second one is the kiss of death. So I decided it's time to upgrade the linux box. But in order to do that, i have to replace the mobo. And in order to do that I'll have to upgrade almost everything else, because the cpu, memory, and video card are all old enough that they will not work with any modern mobo that I get.

Well, if you have to upgrade your mobo, CPU, ram, and video you're pretty much doing a new system. All that's left is the case, power supply, optical drive, and hard drive. That got me to thinking. Why not just go with a whole new system? Why bother, you ask? Well, because what I want to do is build not only a fairly modern system, but also a very quiet system. Partly this is because I'm sick to death of hearing loud whirring fans every time I boot up, and partly because I'd like to be able to have the linux box running a media player while I'm working on the Windows PC. Normally, of course, you can just have Media Monkey or whatever going on the same PC as you run another Windows app, but this doesn't work as well if you're gaming or watching a movie or what have you. But if I'm going to have 2 machines running, one to play music, I want that machine to be quiet, not overloading my ears with more loud fans. Actually, my hope is that I'll get good enough at linux that I'll only use this machine for gaming. But even if I've only got one machine going, it would nice for it to be silent.

So with the help of sites like, tomshardware, anandtech, and so on I've been learning how to build a silent pc. Turns out it's not all that hard - just think passive cooling, very good airflow, good case design, and lots of room and it all comes together. I say lots of room because the CPU coolers that are quiet tend to be big, exotic, beautiful things that are anything but compact:

And the video cards that have passive cooling aren't exactly svelte either:

So what ends up being weird is that the 2 most expensive components of the whole machine are going to be the case and the power supply! Back in the day, those were the afterthoughts of a computer build - you spent sixty bucks and you were set for both. But not if you want a good case and a solid, quiet power supply. The case has to be big enough to fit all this stuff, and has to have good airflow so that a few big, quiet case fans can keep the air moving over the passively cooled components (which is pretty much everything other than the cpu). This is also important because the low noise power supplies don't run their own fans as often or as quickly, they're designed not to need to, and power supply fans typically help move air in the case and keep things cool.

So that's the next project. And will I be posting about here as it progresses? Magic 8 Ball says "it is decidedly so!"

Google Chrome

A couple computer posts coming at you. Here's one on Chrome.

I didn't jump on the Chrome bandwagon when it first came out. To tell you the truth, I'm out of the loop enough that I didn't even know Chrome existed until I started hearing bad things about it - mostly about some weirdness in their terms of use that "attempts to give Google rights to any user-generated content "submitted, posted or displayed on or through" the browser." This was enough to turn me off, although in typical Google fashion the concern was noted, acknowledged, and fixed. (for those of you with a life, Chrome is a web browser, like Internet Explorer, put out by Google as they continue to compete with Microsoft for world domination). About a year after its release I decided to give it a try, partly out of curiosity and partly because I was tired of Firefox's load time. I'm part of that extremely spoiled group of users who thinks that if you have a reasonably up to date system, you shouldn't have to wait several seconds for a commonly used app to load up.

So down was loaded the Chrome, and here we are today. I'm happy to report that overall I'm quite fond of the browser. It's load times are indeed faster than either IE or Firefox, it's use is intuitive, and it has some nifty features. It's address bar, where you type in web addresses, doubles as a google search bar, so that what you type in can lead directly to either a search or a specific web site. As is now mandatory for any current browser, it supports tabs, and it does so very easily (there's a little plus next to your open tabs that, when you click it, pops up a new tab for you). It has an "incognito" mode that, when you use it, prevents the browser from downloading or retaining any information from the sites you visit. (Note that this does nothing to prevent the sites from storing their own information, but it won't be on your PC). As I kind of expected, aside from incognito mode (which you could achieve by tweaking the settings of IE or FF, though not so conveniently), Chrome doesn't offer a lot, at least in terms of immediately apparent functionality, that the others don't. But it's slick, easy, stable, and fast so I like it. I have heard that it uses a "sandbox" approach to improve security, although I haven't read very much about just how effective this is. If it would stop even half the malware that my wife comes across I'd make her start using Chrome.

I should point out that I'm hardly a power user when it comes to web browsing. I'm fairly modest - a few youtube videos, some blogging, some online shopping, and a fair amount of googling for trivia. So there may well be limitations I just haven't come across or cared about yet. The one thing that's disappointing for me is that it doesn't support RSS feeds just yet. Because of that I tend to go back and forth between Chrome and FF, but I find I use Chrome a bit more just because of its convenience.

And as a final note, I just have to say that the team that put together Chrome for Google, "The Chromium project," has the coolest name ever. Just one more reason why only saints and geniuses should be so lucky as to work for Google.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Email pet peeves part I

Email is a wonderful thing. At least I think it is. Sometimes.

Remember in the days back before email. Remember writing "letters?" And then putting them in these things called "envelopes" with these "postage stamps" on them? The younger imaginary readers may not have experienced these primitive vestiges of the dark ages, but to us of the eld, they were once daily parts of life. A big part of going to college, or having your friends go off to college, was the letters. You wrote home. Home wrote back. Home could mean family, friends, former coworkers, your dog Skippy, and so on. Well probably not Skippy, in my case. I still have a few boxes of letters that I kept from those early college years. The letters were like an interpersonal diary - a telling of my life, and the life of my friends, all woven together over weekly to quarterly installments. It was kind of cool.

So, do you remember those days? Think of them fondly, dear readers, because they are DEAD. Long dead. Now we have email. What used to take hours takes minutes. You don't buy a stamp, you hit send. You don't compose a letter, you jot a few lines. You can still enclose pictures, but now you can enclose many, many pictures. If you're actually up on popular computer culture, and you facebook or whatever you don't actually have to send emails even. You just update your facebook page. Weird, I tell ya.

But there are loads of things I like about email. Maybe some day I'll write them down. If I'm feeling particularly sadistic and want to bore you all. But there are a few things I don't like about email. Thing number one, and our subject for today: read and receive receipts. If you haven't hit this feature yet (how could you not?), it's when an email sender sets some settings to automatically notify them when you receive the email and also when you open it to read. From a sender point of view, this can be quite handy. You don't have to wonder "Did they get that email?" cause you know it. So it makes perfect sense. But on the receiving end it bugs the crap out of me. To me it feels like an invasion of privacy. You sent me a message. Ok, fine, thanks. Now get the crap out of my life until I reply. Outlook always asks if it's ok to send a read receipt and I always say "hell no." I just hate internet big brother watching over my shoulder to know what I read and when. Maybe one reason I don't like that feature is that I'm a procrastinator and having an announcement of the time I READ an email that can then be compared to the time I REPLIED to the email can be quite embarrassing. I'd prefer to procrastinate in the privacy of my own home, thank you very much, and if I've got read receipts flowing from my own home to your computer, the privacy of my own home is very much lacking.

So, if you are one who routinely sends things with the read receipt requested option on, and you email me, dont' be offended when you never get a receipt reply. Or if you DO get a reply, I'll send the reply read receipt requested, which you can then acknowledge with a read receipt of your own, which I will acknowledge and on and on we go down through the infinity of time and Comcast digital. You see where this could lead? Anarchy, my friends, anarchy. Best to just not use that feature, I think.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Yummm ... Beeeerrr.

Picture Homer and the title makes sense. Ah, Homer. Remember the classic line "No TV and no beer makes Homer something something"? Five geek points to anyone who can name the episode. But I digress.

I was going to write about this beer called Delirium Tremens which I think is a Belgian beer and is very, very good. I was going to write about it but I couldn't remember much about it other than it seemed to be a wheat beer, it was quite potent (double alcohol content), it's very expensive, but it's soooo tasty. Buying a bottle of this is like buying a bottle of wine, only it tastes good. But what stopped me from writing about it is the fact that I have no capacity, at all, to describe just HOW beer tastes. I don't know the difference between a hop and a tannin. I know dark beer is dark, and tastes more sour and fuller, but I couldn't describe all these different zests and zings and weights and aromas that even beer drinkers seem to be able to pick out of a beer and put into words. For me it tastes good ... or it doesn't. Sweetwater, a local beer out in Atlanta, tastes good. Peroni, an Italian export light beer, tastes like skunk piss. That's about all I can tell you. DT tastes very good. There you have it.

In an effort to compensate for my lack of olfactory and gustatory fluency, I tried to search to find a good description of DT. I did not find one. But I did find that is a very interesting site, and worth looking at, if you don't mind the kinds of content that you would normally associate with a place with a lot of beer (a.k.a. a bar). So if you're at all interested in beer, check it out.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Carl Kasell is retiring.  Well, I guess I can't blame the guy for wanting to sleep in.  I would never be able to get up as early as he's had to.  And as long as he's still on Wait Wait, Don't Tell Me, I'll learn to cope with it.  But I'll miss Kasell's voice in the morning.

When you just don't want to go home...

I'm not sure if everybody has this feeling.  Maybe it's just me, and maybe it's just a measure of where my life is at right now.  I have no living breathing thing waiting for me at home, and so I'm just a little more inclined to stay at work a little extra.  That, and the fact that the project that I've grudgingly nursed for the last six months is stubbornly refusing to spread its wings and fly and is, in fact, hanging onto the side of the nest for dear life, forcing me to pound on its little wing-fingers in an attempt to get it to LET GO.  "You can fly, little bird, I swear.  You just have to stop sitting on your ass in my nest all day!" it bad that the only reason I'm going home now is that I'm looking forward to How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory?  Yes?  It is?  It makes me pathetic?  Oh, all right then.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

One Heckuva Cuppa

The Moth in NYC had their annual Moth Ball last week, which I again failed to go to. I keep hoping that I'll have someone to go with so I don't have to stand there looking awkward, but next year if I'm around I think I'll just buy a freaking ticket and invest in an anti-awkward strategy (meditation? breathing exercises? or perhaps the old standbys of tequila or valium). The Moth is one of my favorite podcasts, right up there with This American Life, and I know I'd enjoy the live event.

When I went to see if I had in fact missed the ball, I discovered they also had an auction, and one of the auctioned items was tea with Neil Gaiman. ($4400. Because I know you want to know. Mr. Gaiman says "WHY DEAR GOD WHY?" but admits it's for a good cause.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Running with bronchitis

If one was to assume that one knows someone else who happened to have contracted bronchitis, one could imagine that this individual may in fact take a long time to recover from said affliction. If said individual had also, we can imagine, had H1N1 prior to the bronchitis, such an individual may not have been inclined, or even capable, of exertion for a number of days, perhaps even as much as 2 weeks, as they were suffering from and then recovering from these illnesses. Such an individual, if they were, we might suppose, used to regular exercise or perhaps even a wee bit obsessive about some aspects of exercise, could be predisposed to frustration in such a circumstance. Indeed, we might suppose that this individual would be downright pissed off about not being able to engage in any particular physical activity that they had specialized in. Such as, oh I don't know, just pulling one out of the ether here, running. Such an individual perhaps would even be tempted to go out and run 7 miles in slightly, we might guess, chilly conditions before they had fully recovered from bronchitis. Certainly we could understand and sympathize with such an impulse. Surely we could all picture doing the same thing ourselves, under similar circumstances. Yet, even if we could all empathize, and understand, and even agree, yes, even if that were the case ....

It would be a Very Bad Idea.

Or so I might imagine if I knew someone who imagined someone who had actually tried it.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Oh, Barney, Let's Never Part Again

A brief tribute to How I Met Your Mother.

I love this show. It's been a little off this season, and I'm forced to admit it's my fault. I was a real Barney & Robin 'shipper, but now that they've broken up, it's good to have Barney back.

And also, damn you Marshal, now I need frozen waffles.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

A Much-Needed Laugh

I love Boing Boing. And I love the fact that this product exists. And I love the fact that the need for said product is lovingly chronicled here (with greatest hits here).

Lazy blog post you say? Yup. It's been a pretty nasty weekend, but I thought I'd share one of the few things that made me laugh.

Saturday, November 14, 2009


My daughter brought me a code today made up of food items that she had used to write a message. I was seized by a sudden moment of uber-geekiness, and explained to her that this was similar to the hieroglyphics that the Egyptians used to write back in the day. (You know, the day, thousands of years ago?). One of the things about being a parent is you can try to sound smart about something you know nothing at all about. She was mildly interested so I googled hieroglyphics and showed her some examples. She wandered off, officially bored by her fathers pedagogy. But I kept reading. Turns out, the system of writing makes some kind of sense! I mean, at least based on this one website, you can readily grasp what they were doing when they were writing it - what meant what (at least in terms of the alphabet, there were a few thousand characters that were not the alphabet that would be harder to figure). Anyway, it was a fascinating 10 minutes, even if my daughter wasn't there to hear it, so if you've ever wondered what they're reading on "The Mummy" check it out.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Really well written response to a book I won't be reading

You guys know I've read Freakanomics, and liked it generally. You also probably know that they've got a sequel out - Superfreakanomics. And based on the buzz, I'm not planning on reading that one. From what I've been reading about the book, they've kind of gone off the edge of reason with the same kind of thinking I have complained about in the past - Post-hoc thinking. Essentially what they're doing is picking a set of data, looking at it selectively, and using it to make some point instead of systematically examining all of the facts or, better yet, conducting an experiment to see if their guesses are right. I feel weird critiquing the authors because, having read the first book, I've concluded that they're brilliant. But brilliant people can make intellectual asses out of themselves and one of the things about pop (i.e., non peer reviewed) writing is that you can get away with being a really big intellectual ass and still sell lots of books (sound familiar Mr. Limbaugh and Mr. Beck??). So, brilliant or not, I'm not planning on plopping down $30 more for the book.

One of the things that people are really fired up about it their stance on climate change. Of course a very hot button topic, and they're brave to take it on. But that doesn't make them right. I've read some excerpts from their chapter, and a load of replies, and by far my favorite post on the subject is this one. I like it because it's well written, it's very clear, and it does a great job of illustrating just where post-hockery can get you. So if you've got a second check it out - it's enjoyable and educational all at the same time. A veritable Oreo of a critique. Enjoy.

And so it begins...

At 9:00 this morning I was supposed to have a deliverable (code that converts a file from one thing to another thing).  At 9:00 I found that the person who was going to write the code was patiently waiting for another human to do something.  I lit a fire under the human who hadn't done his thing, and ever since it has been a process of shepherding things across one little tiny bridge after another.  It's like herding cats across bridges built out of matchsticks.
And it's now 4:00 and we are only theoretically further along than we were at 9:00.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Don't Tell Him How Awesome He Is!

My colleague just got a promotion...except that nobody told him.  Sssssssh!  Don't tell anyone, but Rich is awesome!

Flu sucks

That has to be one of the most subtle, and surprising, post titles I've ever written, if I do say so myself.

So just an update - I've had the flu the past week. It could be H1N1, it probably is because 1) I don't usually get the flu and 2) I got my seasonal flu vaccine a month ago, and 3) I had all the symptoms. But whatever strain it is, I had it in the middle of a business trip and it was quite unpleasant. When I got home, starting to feel better, by the way, I started coughing so much that my wife sent me to Urgent Care where I found I had picked up an ear infection and bronchitis on the way. The doc was optimistic that it will all clear up soon at this point, and I suspect he's right, but in the mean time *blech*.

One of the things that bothered me the most about the whole experience was that I got to be Typhoid Shifter bringing plague to all of Atlanta, everyone on the plane flights, my roommates for the conference, and so forth. At least one of my roommates, my boss actually, did get sick. Definitely a good way to earn brownie points.

So I should add some deep thought, witty observation, or interesting fact to keep this from being a "guess what I had for lunch" post but, well, I can't think of anything. So, it was sausage and noodles with a granola bar. So there.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Peacock Needs Some Color

OK, so full disclosure. I'm a white girl of Irish heritage. I don't tan so much as glow like a traffic light when exposed to the sun. So I'm probably not the best person to bring up this particular topic. There's no tactful way to say this, and this will be exceptionally tactless, because I suck at politics. I apologize, but I really think it's a point worth making, so try to give me the benefit of the doubt.

I love great television. So I love Friday Night Lights. This season, the big plot turn (and it's a good one) is that Eric Taylor has been banished to coaching the football team for East Dillon, the "poor" high school.

Even when Eric was coaching the Panthers, the racial mix of the show was a little weird. I did not grow up in Texas, but I did grow up in New Mexico, and at least once an episode I would wonder where on earth all the Hispanic people were. Let's face it, if this were really Texas, they would probably outnumber the white people on the show. We had the nurse who took care of Matt's grandma representing the entire Hispanic adult population of Dillon, but I remember only one Hispanic student, and I'm not even sure he had any lines. I'm not the only one who's noticed--lots of affectionate reviewers and viewers would prefer it if our suspension of disbelief was taxed only by the insane plot line involving Tyra and Landry committing a crime with virtually no consequences, and not by the regular assertion that nobody in Dillon speaks Spanish except for high school Spanish class.

So I was really excited when the show took this turn of having Eric lose the Panthers coaching job to the truly Bond-villainish father of JD McCoy. I saw it as NBC taking the criticism on the chin and being proactive about it, and using it to fuel some kick-ass drama. I was naive enough to think that some of the kids who live in Texas might not be white, and that some of these not-white kids might go to East Dillon High.

The producers do seem to be aware that East Dillon might have a different demographic. And they have summoned their casting talents to find some really terrific African American actors (including "Wire" veteran Michael B Jordan). This is awesome. I love Smash, and I think Gaius Charles has a big career ahead of him, and if they want to launch another three or four or ten talented African American actors, I'm behind them 100%. Yay, NBC. But Dillon is in Texas, not Georgia. The absence of Hispanic culture in Dillon is frankly getting egregious. These kids would be at that school. And we all know there's talent out there. Hell, Glee takes place in friggin' Ohio and has a more diverse cast--and those kids have to be able to sing. Get out there and raid Telemundo, NBC. Or better yet, get your butts to Texas and find yourself some actual Texas talent.

Sorry--I'll put the soapbox away now and return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

One of Those Weeks

One of those weeks is coming. Just to clarify, it's the kind of week where you bring your own coffee maker to work because you won't have time to go downstairs for coffee. Fortunately we haven't actually gotten to the point of fitting ourselves with catheters yet--maybe next project.

My boss actually sent me home early on Friday because we all know that next week is going to suck. It's going to be really, really awful. This is because although we are only a couple of weeks away from the now-pushed-out delivery date for our project, we keep finding defects, some of which won't even be ready for re-test until Tuesday, so we have an unbelievable number of tests to run in an unbelievably short time frame.

So, you know, posting may be light.

And if you see posts...well, that means that we've found so many problems that we've had to stop working. So hell has been briefly postponed. So that's not good either.

In an effort to prepare myself I went to Brooklyn today. I walked around in the fall sunshine and got my hair done. I went to an off-Broadway play in the afternoon (it wasn't especially good, but it was better than cleaning my house, which was definitely the alternative). Tomorrow I'm working out and finishing cleaning my house, because if I get it clean tomorrow it will stay clean until the project is over, because I'll be lucky if I see it for a week. And that'll be a big relief when I finally emerge from the Zone of Evil.

Any and all tips for survival in the Zone of Evil are welcomed and appreciated.

Friday, November 06, 2009

I am an economist!

Well, okay, maybe not.  But my experience is now officially mirrored by employed Americans everywhere, as noted by an actual economist on Marketplace.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Another Reason I'll Never Be a Serious Journalist

Personally, I wouldn't have done this story without using the phrase, "toe-pick!"

Monday, November 02, 2009

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Cool song...

A colleague/friend of mine gave me a running mix right before the marathon. I didn't listen to it in the marathon, but did listen on the drive to/from. IT has a few songs that caught me by surprise. As in they were very good. Here is one of them, by Tom Waits. I gather he's been around for ever and ever but I never listened to him. Maybe that was a mistake. He has a scratchy tired voice that is very appealing in the context of this song, and the lyrics are pretty cool. It took me about forever to figure out what he was saying. What's not to like?


Here are the Halloween Jack-o-lanterns. I'll let you pick which is which: