Archive for the 'rant' Category

some dust, some spam

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

Do you like Kaspersky Internet Security?

Do you like its effectiveness and efficiency and its features?

Do you like its spam filtering component?

I don’t.

Yup, he never got this email about renewing Kaspersky. Guess why.

In other news, I’m fairly sure I worked on the Addams family’s Dell today:

And here’s why your P4 will overheat and crash over and over and over again this coming summer:

Put your computer *on* your desk, not under it, especially if you have a wooden floor that won’t trap dust by itself. Don’t smoke near it. Don’t run it 24/7 in a car workshop, or *I* get your Mazda’s grease all over my hands cleaning it out.

That is all.

sort by… what?

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

Windows Vista gives you the ability to sort through any folder of objects – music, say, or photos – with a certain set of attributes. For music, it suggests track name, or artist, or album, or track number. You can sort My Computer by how much free space is in each volume, or where they are on the network.

I wanted to sort a folder by how recently the files were modified, and got distracted by the sheer choice of things you can sort by.

This is my favourite, by far:

Actually trying to sort my movie collection by station call sign does nothing at all, because movies generally don’t have that kind of attribute. Nor do they have anniversaries, optional attendee addresses, or car phone numbers.

Dear Microsoft, some points:

  1. Please, please, please put “Date modified” back on the Sort By menu for every kind of folder. This is the only sorting attribute I’ve ever wanted or needed to add to a folder.
  2. If you insist on making everything searchable – including the Start menu, which I only ever find myself searching in after bumping the Windows key by accident – for the love of God and all that is holy please make the sorting details list searchable, or at least categorised somehow.
  3. I don’t even know what kind of file would have station call signs as attributes. It’s not part of any walkthrough ever published on the internet. Halp?

i hate being sick. (updated)

Friday, June 6th, 2008

I am male, and I have a cold. This basically means I act like I’m tired (I am) and the world’s ending (sure feels like it) and [grunting noises] (how I communicate when I’m too lazy to speak).

Bear with me here.

My job involves fixing PCs. I can diagnose faulty hardware in seconds (and take some weird pleasure in it). I’ve just spent two days fighting with what I believe was some mutant f$@!ing rootkit that half the internet thinks is smitfraud and the other half thinks is vundo. I also have lungs and thus a need to breathe, even when blowing dust out of your computer, so please think again before you smoke next to your computer.

Or cook bacon next to it. Computers that smell like bacon are awesome, but they tend to die young.

Anyhow, my point is I know this stuff.

Computers have drives or cards, cards have electrical components, and all the separate little parts combine to make a system with finite parts.

If you don’t have sound anymore, you might need to reinstall your soundcard driver. If your computer bluescreens frequently, get windiag or memtest86 and test your RAM overnight. If you get weird messages about CMOS settings or your drive letters switch around, replace your CMOS battery. If you get random reboots and your hard drives sometimes turn off while you’re working, test the power supply. If the motherboard doesn’t beep at all with no drives, expansion cards or RAM plugged in, replace the PSU or the board.

Coolest one ever? “There’s some noise in the speakers I can’t get rid of.” (3 second pause) “Mute line in.”

Finite parts can only fail in finite ways. If you have no life, you can train yourself to look at a machine that’s beeping, or blinking, or rebooting, and point at it and say “replug the keyboard in, and jumper the hard drives properly this time”.

The system’s scope is usually that of a single computer, but frequently fun little things like fujacks can involve your entire network. Which, if your network is a lab of random computers from people’s houses, can be excruciating. Stop sharing your C:\ drives with full write permissions, you gits.

(Yes, we could’ve avoided that by isolating clients with some kind of expensive managed switch, but that’s only happened once, and one afternoon isn’t worth the cost.)

It’s just barely manageable though. I watch House, and nod sagely, and realise I do pretty much the same thing – down to the pacing around with fiddletoys – and wonder how the hell medical doctors even exist.

Me? I know to take ibuprofen when it hurts, penicillin when it’s green, antihistamines when I want to sleep *and* breathe at night, and apply coldness when I’ve just burned myself on something or rolled an ankle strolling down a mountain.

That, and strap my belt around my leg and not move much if I’ve been bitten by a snake, so the venom doesn’t rush around my bloodstream as quickly. That’s never happened, so I still have no idea if I’m going to run like hell anyway.

I suck at the normal stuff too. It’s only just recently, at 21 and a bit years of age, that I’ve realised TV is lying to me, and that I need to eat less, not better, to lose a bit of weight. Home-cooked meals mean you eat alright, and I get enough exercise at work, so all I had to do was eat breakfast at brunchtime, dinner at dinnertime, and go to bed before second dinner starts to sound good. I lost 5 kilos in a month because I realised what I was doing wrong, went “oh yeah!”, and fixed it.

With a computer, you can swap out some RAM, or unplug excess drives, or try a different keyboard, or stop using nVidia’s freaking nForce4 IDE driver that kills Windows installs in weeks, and you get instant results. You instantly know that the very last change you made did something good.

I barely remember to shave unless I rub my chin and my fingers start hurting. The two morals in this rantfest are as follows:

  1. If the three following phrases are present on a box of medicine – “Cold relief”, “Maximum Strength” and “Day & Night” (my god, those phrases speak to my male brain) – buy it. You’ll feel weird later on when someone says “ah, you’re into the natural stuff?”, but Valerian is awesome, and you’ll never sleep as well as you will taking it.
  2. You have absolutely no excuse to not be as well-informed as you can make yourself. Forget paying for extra TV channels – you’ll be told some facts about the great wall of China, and gain respect for the ice truckers of northern Canada, but the internet gives you so much more.

Got 15 spare minutes? Learn why you can’t roll-start automatic transmissions, or why advertising should be irrelevant to your life. Or google some lyrics you remember from years ago to find out what the song was called, or a phone number before you ring it back in case it’s bogus. Read about drugs, or how to buy used cars (look for a site localised to your country/state), or which antivirus is best (don’t rely on that friend of a friend who said AVG is all you’ll ever need), or how to get smells out of carpets (baking soda is the golden path), or circumcision (google it yourself).

Go to a geeky channel on IRC and ask them what shaving kit they use. Base your purchases off what they say, because it’ll be excellent advice. Do the same thing with food or cars if you’re on a budget.

Inform yourself, because once you’re out of school the world is an open-ended sandbox where you’re free to up and move to Melbourne if your savings allow it.

Okay, back to coughing. G’night.

Update: I only bought the herbal stuff by accident. The box had all the right words, but a few nights later I took a couple of phenergen and scrounged some antibiotics and today I’ve completely bounced back. Let’s all just forget I ever tried a natural alternative.

quality, and why you should pay for it

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

The object in the above photo is the I/O backplate from a cheap computer case.

Cheerfully rolled up. By hand.

It’s made of steel, as is the thing on the left, which was an expansion slot cover.

The case itself was of such amazing quality that the hard drive didn’t fit in the proper bay, so I had to bend out the little tabs that would normally hold a drive there while you screwed it in.

Again, by hand.

This is a bit of a problem in the PC sales industry. Things get sold by the numbers with the slimmest possible profit margins, and to hell with the quality, a box is a box. And fair enough, a PC case basically is just a box with funny cutouts and a plastic swooshy curvy front bit.

But the cheap ones are made with the finest, cheapest steel in all of Guangzhou, occasionally don’t line up right (making building a PC in them frustrating), and can be designed so badly they’re quite capable of shorting out random parts of a motherboard (making building a PC in them exciting occasionally smoky a crappy way to end up not saving money overall).

Why should you buy a brandname card reader from a shop for $40 when you can get one on ebay for $4 including delivery? because you get a warranty that doesn’t cost double the item to fulfill, and you get a far better quality item overall anyway. Cheap USB card readers sometimes won’t read cards bigger than 1GB, or they might have a painfully slow transfer speed (and someday that’s going to be the difference between catching or missing a bus). It’s worth it to splash out on the Sandisk reader.

That broadband modem might be $20 cheaper than the one next to it on the shelf, but you’ll pay for that. The software that runs it might be less stable, less well programmed, the hardware itself might be unreliable. It’s still a modem, and it’s still a wireless access point, but the modem might be slow at negotiation so you’ll spend 10x the time waiting for the sodding thing to connect, and the access point might be less reliable, less secure by default, and you might not be able to watch streaming video over it (a nasty surprise – if you can’t watch 720p (about 7 megabits a second) over 54mbps wireless, take it the hell back). After my own experiences, I’m never again buying anything that isn’t from Linksys or Draytek.

You could save $10 by getting the cheaper wireless keyboard and mouse combo, but you shouldn’t. The keyboard will feel a bit less nice, the mouse wheel will wear out and spin freely after 3 months, the buttons will wobble, you’ll get a month of battery life instead of 6 and you might as well have cables for all the wireless range you’ll get.

Logitech wireless gear comes with Duracell batteries; offbrand keyboards come with offbrand cells. The difference there is more than symbolic. (Medion is a grey area.)

And don’t even get me started on Bluetooth. If the biggest word written on it isn’t a brandname, don’t buy it.

Paying a little more for something a whole lot better carries on up to full computers, too. If you’re strapped for cash, a $600 laptop will do; it’ll have an LCD widescreen, a 120GB hard drive, maybe a gig of memory, and these days wireless networking no matter what. It’ll have a Turion or maybe a Celeron, which are perfectly good CPUs if you don’t particularly know what a CPU is. You might even snag it with a two year warranty in a good deal, so the machine itself should be running for a while.

Warranty just isn’t what it used to be, though. It used to mean that the manufacturer warrants it’ll be free of defects for a period of time; nowadays it just means they’re obligated to give you a new or fixed one when it breaks over and over until the 12 months are up.

And there’s no substitute for buying something better in the first place.

Another one or two hundred bucks will ideally net you a Centrino notebook, which means Intel provided the CPU, graphics and main chipset. Generally this means you’ll get a machine that’ll run on batteries for probably 3-5 hours straight, connect to wireless networks with the least amount of pain, won’t melt your testicles off, and won’t be unspeakable agony to find drivers for 4 years down the track when you format it and hand it to your nephew to play with for school.

To be fair, I did buy my Dell Centrino with two batteries, and Intel’s 855 graphics chip was a bit underwhelming. That said, it’s now approaching its third birthday, still runs under its own steam for five or six hours off a full charge, and it’s still utterly silent if I’m not playing Halo on it.

Just try and tell me your 3 year old Acer does that.

why i hate consumer hardware

Friday, April 4th, 2008

My hate-hate relationship with the D-Link DSL-G604T continues:


Point 1: I am using a G604T again because my other modem died. Again. Right now, I don’t recommend the NB6W either.

Point 2: I had to power cycle the modem when I got home today before it would connect (it just sat there blinking its ADSL light slowly).

Read the rest of this entry »


Sunday, November 18th, 2007

Plan: “Okay, I’ll settle for an 8600GT now, and when the single slot 8800GT comes out and drops in price I’ll ebay the old one or something.”

Reality: “Gah, that‘s scary huge and it’s not going to fit.”

what to do when your boot drive gets f:/’d

Friday, October 12th, 2007

Something we frequently do at work is a full backup and reinstall: image the boot drive to one of our backup drives in rotation, wipe their drive and reinstall Windows, find drivers and programs, then plug the backup drive in and copy their stuff back.

Long story short, Windows made the backup drive C:, called its actual boot drive F:, and once our drive was removed, it hung at the “Welcome” screen. It’s like someone never wearing shoes again because they broke a shoelace once. Or something. It’s just so staggeringly dumb I can’t think of a decent analogy.

Fortunately, this is the 2nd google result for “changed drive letters”. Reproduced here mainly for my own reference, and so you can remember reading about a fix if you ever come across it:

  • Run regedit (Windows key + R, “regedit”, enter)
  • Go to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\MountedDevices
  • Rename (not modify the value of) \DosDevices\C: to Z: or something
  • Rename the actual boot drive (say F:) to C:
  • Rename the other drive back to F: or whatever
  • Pray, reboot, and pray some more

It worked for me, and that computer’s back on someone’s desk being productive.

Update 4/2/2010: I’ve come up with a new solution to this problem that seems to work consistently. Click here to go to the new blog entry I wrote to announce and explain it.

paradigm shift

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

Do you hate school/uni/work?

Read this and this.