Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for July, 2007

Hacking MPG

Posted by Trixter on July 23, 2007

In 2001 at the height of the internet bubble, I sold stock options to pay for a minivan for Melissa. I knew she liked to have the air conditioning on all the time, and we needed to merge onto the highway a few times a week via a terribly-designed onramp (where you have about 1.3 seconds to merge or you will die) they could really use some help from www.melbournelinemarking.com.au to make a better design, so I made sure the minivan had a V8 in it so she could have no problems merging onto the highway with the air conditioning on.  My prior experience with doing so was in a tiny Ford Escort, which has an engine so weak that turning on the air conditioning effectively acts as a secondary braking system.  I thought that getting a V8 was a good idea in this context.

Big mistake. A V6 would have been sufficient; a V8, on the other hand, guzzles gas like it’s going out of style. This wasn’t a problem when gas prices were $1.60 a gallon., but now that they’re $3.50/g, we’re spending nearly $200 a month on gas, sometimes more. For some people, this is nightly dinner money. For us, it’s the utility bill, so it hurts.

I read in a recent Slashdot post (URL escapes me at the moment, sorry) that modern cars can get nearly hybrid-like gas performance if computers were installed to learn how to coast to stoplights. Due to broken air conditioning in the van, Melissa and I have traded cars for the summer (I don’t mind the heat) and I decided to put that theory to the test in the V8 gas guzzler. Bottom line: It works, but you have to exercise discipline.

When Melissa drives the van, she drives it hard, and the average MPG is about 14mpg. I, however, have been setting cruise control to exactly the speed limit every chance I get, and coasting 100 feet or more to stoplights. My average MPG? 21mpg. Just by adjusting driving habits, I got an average of 126 more miles out of each tank; filling up the tank twice each month, that’s a savings of $42. It’s essentially one free fillup a month.

The tradeoff is that you need to be very aware of the car and the road when you do this. For example, don’t accelerate quickly to get to the speed limit, which burns all your savings in a few seconds; instead, try to keep your engine’s RPMs under 2000 no matter what. (Warning: This may piss off the people behind you.)  Also, constantly scan far ahead to anticipate how early to cancel cruise control — too late, and you miss out on gas savings; too early, and you’ll be coasting up to the stoplight for nearly a full minute.  (Warning: this will piss off the people behind you.)

Posted in Lifehacks | 4 Comments »

A different, rambling approach

Posted by Trixter on July 23, 2007

After nearly two weeks of unsuccessfully trying to restore the HighPoint RAID mystery sector information that ties my partitions together in a RAID 0 bond of harmony, I’m going to chuck it (the RAID controller, not the computer).  Serves me right for trying to do RAID on the cheap.  The new plan is to attach the drives as Plain Old Dumb Drives(tm) to the PATA ports, restore the XP partitions to a PlainOldDumbDrive, hope it works, and then fire up XP using any means necessary just long enough to export all proprietary databases to open ones (iTunes ratings, Thunderbird filters/junk/prefs, etc.).  Then I most certainly will be rebuilding the machine.

You know, I’ve had this XP partition/setup since 2001?  I guess that’s a testament to the stability of XP.  If you don’t act like a fucktard, XP won’t act like a fucktard back at ya.  I’ve had nearly no issues with XP in 6 straight years, which was a refreshing change from Windows 9x.  What prompted me to purchase Windows XP in 2001 was an experience in Windows 98 that almost had me damaging equipment:  I lost the ability to drag icons.  That wasn’t what made me mad, though: What made me furious was that, a week later, it fixed itself and started working again.  That’s just retarded.

So anyway… the new approach in trying to manage all this is System Rescue CD, brought to you by the fine folks who created partimage.  It’s a Linux rescue CD (a “liveCD” that you can boot directly and use without installing Linux) that works pretty damn well.  It’s taken Linux a long time to figure out how to do NTFS properly, but sysrescuecd distribution works well enough that you can mount a SAMBA/Windows share to a local directory and back up entire partitions to it.  I’m in it right now (running FireFox to add this weblog entry, no less).  In one window I’m copying my Acronis backup images to one of the PlainOldDumbDrives (so that multiple restores will take 30 minutes instead of 5 hours); in the other window I’m trying to figure out why I’m getting only 50mbit/s over my 100mbit/s FD network.  It’s plain, but functional, and can even boot off of a 256MB USB key.

All this because Apple couldn’t keep their iTunes database in XML by default.  Or, making even more sense, store the rating information in the MP3 files themselves using ID3 tags like everyone else.  I was lured into a false sense of security when I learned OS X was based on BSD Unix.  I thought maybe, just maybe, Apple would play nice with the rest of the world for a change.  Silly Trixter!

I’m not giving up yet.  I’m going to get my 14 months of song ratings back if it nearly kills me! Until then, I get to irritate my friends and family by posting blog entries from public computers while my email goes unread for, oh, going on 16 days now.

Posted in Technology | Leave a Comment »

Still off the grid

Posted by Trixter on July 23, 2007

By this point I’m sure my friends and family are urging me to just forget trying to restore my old machine and just reinstall and start over.  I’m still working on restoration.  Why?

Because I spent over a year rating much of my 10,000 song library in itunes, and that information is not properly backed up.  I figure 2+ weeks of lost time is worth it to save 50+ weeks.

Posted in Technology | 3 Comments »

Off the grid

Posted by Trixter on July 20, 2007

Where have I been lately?  Off the grid.  What originally started as a personal decision has now turned into a technical necessity:  The hard disks in my main machine have blown and we’re broke until I get paid next month.  I know I have other machines, but I’ve used this one machine for all of my main communication (email, IM, etc.) that it doesn’t feel “right” working on another machine for my day-to-day stuff.  Call me anal.

Next month’s payday is, conveniently, my birthday, so I will reward myself with two brand new hard drives.  Nothing fancy; I’ll probably do what I always do when buying hard drives:

  1. Go to newegg.com
  2. Look at every single hard drive with the specs I’m interested in; for example:
    • SATA or PATA
    • 3  year warranty at bare minimum
    • etc.
  3. Divide the cost of the drive by # of gigabytes to get cost per gigabyte

…and pick the drive with the best value.

Why two drives?  Because I hate losing data due to circumstances beyond my control.  Must… mirror… data…

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Mom and dad I love you boath

Posted by Trixter on July 8, 2007

My son just sent his first email without any of us helping him.  Thanks to the wonderful world of spare parts, he has a computer in his bedroom, connected to the ‘net over the wireless LAN.  I set up email for him, showed him how to do it, then walked him through a few messages to his grandparents.

Completely unsolicited, hours later when he was supposed to be putting himself to bed, I received the above.  “Mom and dad   I love you boath”.  Needless to say, it brought a tear to my eye (even if he was avoiding going to bed).

Max is seven years old.  He can communicate to any other machine on the internet and search the knowledge of one million libraries in a few seconds.  He wears a device no larger than a few chiclets that plays music for 14+ hours.

No wonder they say kids are growing up faster.  I think it’s obvious they are.

Posted in Family | 1 Comment »


Posted by Trixter on July 3, 2007

Several times in my life, I’ve asked a question that nobody could answer. Sometimes I wait patiently and the answer comes one decade later (such as a walkthrough to Tass Times in Tonetown) or even two decades later (the solution to Hack). Other times, my need for information is too great and I research it myself (8088 Corruption) or architect a solution that can provide me the answer (MobyGames). The latter is a lot of work — I greatly prefer the former, as does everyone. But it doesn’t happen often, and sometimes I write off the entire cause and forget about it.

Today, however, I had one of those moments. I’m a compression geek, with a focus on high-performance decompression. I’ve always wondered how well real-time disk compression products like Stacker, Drivespace, Doublespace, SuperStor, EZDrive, etc. performed. How fast were they at compression? Decompression? How much compression did each achieve on a set of test data? Well, today I stumbled across this:

Real-time Data Compression Algorithms’ Benchmarks

After everyone is in bed tonight, I am setting aside an entire hour with a comfy chair to sit in and a pop to just… soak it all in.

Posted in Programming, Vintage Computing | 4 Comments »

Reaching Voyager Saturation

Posted by Trixter on July 2, 2007

In my last post, I mentioned that I was battling depression using several techniques, one of which was a mystery fourth ingredient.  That ingredient was the complete immersion into the world of Star Trek: Voyager.  To whit, I have completed the following:

  1. Watched seasons 1 through 5, in order
  2. Played and finished Star Trek Voyager: Elite Force
  3. Watched seasons 6 and 7, in order
  4. Played Elite Force II’s first mission (fills in some of the Endgame story)

On completing this, I have now seen every single Star Trek regular series episode (I did the same saturation with DS9 last year).  Actually, that’s not entirely true; I haven’t seen every Enterprise episode.  But I never will, due to its overwhelming suckitude (when the season finale is essentially a mediocre TNG episode and is one of the best episodes of the entire series, you know your series should have died on the vine a long time ago).

This complete immersion into all things Voyager has raised me to Grand Flaming Nerd Echelon 5 Alpha, where I’ve been enlightened by a few new pieces of information:

  • Voyager was better than most people credit it.  There was a little too much reliance on hologram technology as a major plot point, and the Borg weren’t nearly as threatening as they were in TNG (due to overexposure), but overall it wasn’t nearly as bad as the criticism it has received.  If you want to check Voyager out, I highly recommend renting (or downloading) entire seasons at a time, so that you can quickly skip past secondary plots you don’t care about, episodes you’ve already seen before, etc.
  • Like most Star Trek series, Voyager follows the “thirds rule” pretty faithfully:  One third of the episodes are best forgotten, one third are average entertainment, and one third kick ass in one or more ways.  (The only series to not follow this rule is Enterprise.  I leave it to you to figure out the percentages of good/avg/bad on that one.)
  • Jeri Ryan made the best of her situation (ie. “let’s bring in a sexpot to raise the flagging ratings”).  There are about five episodes where she genuinely acts — skillfully — and the story is much better as a result.  That’s about 5 percent of the episodes she appeared in, which sounds like a slam, but it’s not meant to be.  I don’t think any fan of the show was expecting her to hold her own with the other actors as well as she did.
  • With the exception of Kate Mulgrew, most of the actors had two basic categories of operation:  Flustered or Jovial.  This unfortunately caused some of the story progressions to become predictable, as the writers fed off of the actors’ portrayal of their characters.
  • Kate Mulgrew is a much better actress than most people realize.  She manages to find the right, subtle notes for almost every scene that requires her to say something more than the standard stock library of “Shields!”
  • Some stories should have been rejected as duplicates.  We have two stories where a bomb needs to be defused by reasoning with its computer A.I.; four (or more, I lost count) stories where characters on the holodeck either become aware of the holodeck, escape the holodeck, or both; multiple stories where characters are killed then revived; etc.
  • The attempt to fit some of the Endgame story in the Elite Force II game was a dismal failure.  The game’s portrayal of what happened inside the sphere lacks any sort of urgency or coherence.  It removes all skill from defeating the Borg (evidentally all you have to do is shoot power couplings here and there to defeat an entire Sphere) and there’s no consequences for taking too long to do something.  (It also didn’t help that the voice actor for Ensign Munroe is also the voice actor for the new animated The Batman series — it was unsettling playing Bruce Wayne disabling a Borg vessel).  In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t bothered.

Believe it or not, I’m not a die-hard ST fanboy; I don’t own any collectables, I’ve never been to a convention, and I never will.  I just like science fiction that, while sometimes average and predictable, explores areas that aren’t normally explored in conventional drama, including new takes on moral dilemmas.  Some of the episodes deal with things I can find in conventional fiction, like Neelix’s decision to commit suicide when his entire faith and belief system is dissolved (“Mortal Coil”, a showcase episode for Ethan Phillips), or how history is inevitably written by the victors (“Living Witness”, also excellent), or whether or not it is ethical to use data from experiments conducted by a war criminal to save the living (“Nothing Human”).  But where else can I experience fiction that deals with things like:

  • Trying to reason with a bomb to convince it not to explode (“Dreadnought”)
  • Being captured by a race of semi-sentient robots and being coerced to mass-produce them (“Prototype”)
  • Two people being merged into one by accident, and the ethical dilemma of whether it is right or wrong to seperate them again, since it means the death of the new individual (“Tuvix”)
  • A scientist unable to publish his new findings on the definitive origin of life for his species due to an oppressive regime (“Distant Origin”)
  • A holographic servant with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder who finds organics repulsive (“Revulsion”)
  • Experiments on a race where the race is sentient and doesn’t wish to participate, and how far they’ll go to stop being experimented on (“Scientific Method”)
  • Trying to prevent the loss of one race by committing genocide against another through the manipulation of history (“Year Of Hell”)
  • Selectively wiping a section of memory from a person to prevent them from going insane (“Latent Image”)
  • Being digested by a pitcher plant, from the perspective of the fly lured into it (“Bliss”)
  • Switching one personality for another due to an accident, and the moral implications of whether or not to switch it back (“Riddles”)
  • Whether it’s ethical to genetically engineer your unborn child’s appearance (“Lineage”)

I mean, come on, it’s not like I can get this stuff on the typical network dreck shoveled to the masses these days.

Posted in Entertainment | 3 Comments »