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A New Power Supply for Vector

February 1, 2014

I keep my desktop computers for extended periods, typically four to eight years.  So I buy high-end models that will last for a long time. But that means I must deal with typical fatigue failures. That is what I dealt with this week, when the power supply in my 2009 Velocity Micro Z35, which I call Vector, crapped out.

My low teacher salary means I keep cars for even longer periods – Princess the Toyota Camry is over 12 years old with over 225,000 miles on her.  I know water pumps wear out and timing belts must not be allowed to break, so I have them periodically replaced.  For a computer, the spinning hard drives have a limited lifespan, so I use a mirrored second hard drive in a RAID 1 setup so that I can recover quickly from a drive crash. But the next most common problem with an older computer is a burned-out power supply. That is too infrequent to keep a spare on hand, so when my desktop computer showed absolutely no sign of life last weekend, I knew it would stay out of commission for a few days.

My Velocity Micro system has lots of fans, both in the case and on internal components. That helps it stay cool, but also introduces a lot of dust into the unit, as does it placement on the floor next to my computer desk. My system had overheated and shut itself off a few times, which I temporarily fixed by cleaning it out and keeping an air gap on all sides. But I don’t have a regular cleaning schedule for the unit, and when the power supply went down and I opened up the unit, I discovered the fans and internals were covered in dust. That probably shortened the life of the supply.

The dead power supply taken out of Vector

I blew out all of the dust and began examining the many power cords from the 550 watt supply. It is a real monster to allow one to outfit the computer with lots of drives and powerful graphic cards, etc. My system didn’t use half of the supply cords, which were tucked away, and had some separate power line splices to hook multiple fans and drives up to a single power supply cord. But that still left several connections to pull apart:

  • 20-pin motherboard connector
  • 8-pin +12V workstation connector
  • 4-pin Molex connector for DVD/CD drive and fans
  • SATA connector for hard drives

Power supply connectors

I pulled all of those out and removed the old supply. I could buy a nice Antec supply of the same power with the various connectors on Amazon for $65 with 2nd-day Prime shipping, but my girlfriend, Wendy, knows how to save a dime and urged me to get a cheaper supply from TigerDirect. I opted for the Ultra LSP550 supply, which cost $35 with a $10 2nd-day-air shipping charge.

The new power supply

I ordered the supply over the weekend and the new unit arrived on Wednesday. There was actually a nice user’s manual with step-by-step illustrated directions for making the various connections. I plugged everything in, put the system back together, and thankfully it booted up like a champ.

I have no immediate plans to retire my system. The Intel i7-920 microprocessor with four 2.66 GHz cores running Windows 7 still meets my needs, although the slow hard drives are a real bottleneck when comparing performance to my old MacBook Air, which is speedy thanks to its solid state drive. I hate Windows 8, so I’ll probably wait for Windows 9 and cheaper large-scale solid state drives before I buy a new desktop system. Hopefully the new power supply will keep Vector running until then.

Vector back up and running

 
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Posted by on February 1, 2014 in home repair, technology

 

Old Media

September 20, 2013
Has Bond ever been this beautiful?

Has Bond ever been this beautiful?

This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

There’s still life in the old boy.

The Skyfall Blu Ray disc sat beside the television set for two months, as I was unaware until tonight that it was the best Bond film in decades. Daniel Craig revived the James Bond franchise back in 2006 with a very serious take on Casino Royale, the Ian Fleming novel which got away from Broccoli and was a spoof back before I was potty trained. While it was invigorating to have a more vulnerable and gritty Bond, I found the film’s plot murky and the subsequent Quantum of Solace in 2008 a violent disappointment. So I didn’t make it to the cinema for Skyfall and took my sweet time about watching it on disc. But when I finally popped it in the player, I was in for a treat.

But I struggled with the Blu Ray disc, which wanted to bore me with mandatory previews and, of all things, a ludicrous commercial about Blu Ray disc features. Hey Columbia, disabling the menu and skip commands during previews and other unwanted junk is hardly a selling point for Blu Ray, especially when the disc lacks even rudimentary features like a director’s commentary and behind-the-scenes documentary. I finally had to resort to fast-forwarding through one piece of junk after another to get to the movie.

I was even more annoyed by a disc error which rendered a few minutes of the movie unwatchable. As I wrestled with the technology, I wished Hollywood would stop gouging me and put this film, which premiered almost a year ago, on the streaming services. Even better, throw in an option to stream a commentary and related documentaries. Eventually the physical discs will die out as bandwidth improves and younger viewers refuse to use optical media. But those days are not here yet.

Beautiful backdrop for assassin vs. assassin

Beautiful backdrop for assassin vs. assassin

One reason I still tolerate Blu Ray is the image quality, and thankfully Eon Production’s 23rd Bond film takes full advantage of it. Sam Mendes’ direction was superb and he made the most of a couple of visually stunning nighttime set pieces in Shanghai and an imagined Macao. Ridley Scott’s Los Angeles of Blade Runner has come to life, but 6500 miles to the west.

Blade Runner's Los Angeles has appeared 6500 miles to the west

Blade Runner’s Los Angeles has appeared 6500 miles to the west in Skyfall’s Shangai

Early Bond films had legendary theme songs and titles, and Adele’s entry for Skyfall is top notch, married to a great title sequence which gives nods to some of Mendes’ most beautiful imagery. I hadn’t enjoyed a Bond title sequence so much since Goldeneye back in 1995, with its wonderful imagery of the collapse of Soviet Russia and its iconography.

Even better, the film gave some meaningful back story for Bond and was a great final bow for Judi Dench’s groundbreaking portrayal of M, with excellent supporting work from Ralph Fiennes and the grand old Albert Finney. The villain had some great scenes, and the film was replete with homages to the past 50 years of the franchise without seeming stale or too campy.

But what I enjoyed most was the melancholy air about the film, its bleak portrayal of a Bond whose vices and age are catching up with him. I have been feeling my age this week, having aggravated my problematic lower back, and the film’s references to 50 years of Bond films reminded me that I’ll be 50 myself in a few years. Strangely enough, the rather bleak Skyfall gives me hope: it reminds me that there is still quite a bit of fight left in us both.

“Skyfall”

This is the end
Hold your breath and count to ten
Feel the earth move and then
Hear my heart burst again

For this is the end
I’ve drowned and dreamt this moment
So overdue I owe them
Swept away, I’m stolen

Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together
Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall
Face it all together
At skyfall
That skyfall

Skyfall is where we start
A thousand miles and poles apart
Where worlds collide and days are dark
You may have my number, you can take my name
But you’ll never have my heartLet the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all togetherLet the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together
At skyfall

(Let the sky fall
When it crumbles
We will stand tall)

Where you go I go
What you see I see
I know I’d never be me
Without the security
Of your loving arms
Keeping me from harm
Put your hand in my hand
And we’ll stand

Let the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together

Let the sky fall (let the sky fall)
When it crumbles (when it crumbles)
We will stand tall (we will stand tall)
Face it all together
At skyfall

Let the sky fall
We will stand tall
At skyfall
Oh

 
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Posted by on September 20, 2013 in movie, music, technology, video

 

Day 1, July Escape 2013: Canyon, Texas

Trip Date: July 10, 2013

This year Wendy Kemp joined me for my traditional vacation from the hot and sweltering Oklahoma summer. We’ve taken “trips” together before, but she said this was our first “vacation” since we vacated the state for cooler climes for an extended period. We spent nine days out west in the Texas panhandle, northern New Mexico, southwestern Colorado, and across southern Kansas. The weather cooperated, with us often enjoying rain and temperatures which were sometimes 30 degrees or more cooler than back home.

DAY 1: OKC & PALO DURO CANYON

Day 1 Map (click map for slideshow)

I planned the vacation to focus on some of my familiar haunts in southwestern Colorado, but I knew better than to ask my companion to endure a 10-hour drive, plus pit stops, to reach Santa Fe in one day. Plus, I’d been advised by Facebook friends to visit Palo Duro Canyon, located just south of Amarillo, Texas in the middle of the fairly desolate Texas panhandle.

Tech Support in OKC and the Death of Latitude

So we first drove down to Tulsa and took the Turner Turnpike to Oklahoma City to drop in for lunch with my parents. My visits usually include some parental tech support, and this time I had to set up their secure WiFi network again after a power glitch wiped out the router settings.  I also spent an inordinate amount of time trying to get their Google Latitude account working again, since they use it to track my movements during my trips.  It never seemed to sync right, so we abandoned that effort for a nice lunch at El Chico, and then Wendy and I headed west on I-40 towards Amarillo, Texas.

That evening my mother reported her Latitude service was syncing again so she could track us easily, but Google announced it was killing the free service in a month. I must hope that someone will develop a suitable replacement at a reasonable price; I am not at all pleased with how Google deploys a free service, destroying the competitive market, and then abandons loyal and frequent users of that service.  It makes me distrust other Google services I rely upon, such as Google Sites and Google Drive. I hope I can find a better alternative than Google’s suggestion of using location tracking via Google+; Facebook and my blog are enough social services for me, so I have refused to develop my Google+ account beyond the bare essentials. I will see what develops in the next few weeks.

All that is left is dirt and tears…and arroyos

The Texas Panhandle

The drive to Amarillo was long and hot, with the temperature spiking above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.  We made a pit stop in poor little McLean, Texas. The town is dying out, with a single filthy convenience store and a symbolic lean dog roaming the streets. As we drove out of town, I commented to Wendy, “All that is left is dirt and tears.”

She liked that turn of phrase, but was far less appreciative of my frequent references to the arroyos as we drove westward. As “arroyo” rolled off my tongue for the umpteenth time, she spat, “Don’t you dare say that again! Don’t you dare!”

Wendy noticed and shot a photo of stacked clouds as we drove south from Amarillo towards Canyon, Texas. We checked into the Best Western at Canyon, from which it was a short drive east to Palo Duro Canyon. There we had a “chuck wagon supper” and enjoyed the “Texas!” musical at the canyon’s Pioneer Amphitheatre. (Doesn’t it seem strange that a Texas park would spell it amphitheatre?)

Palo Duro Canyon

Texas!

The canyon was impressive, more so than the $14 dinner of brisket, beans, and cobbler; I’d have appreciated an actual bun for my barbecue sandwich rather than plain white bread, for one thing. But the scenery was nice, and a bust of Quanah Parker set the stage for his awkward inclusion in the musical to come.

Wendy and I enjoyed looking over a large stone relief map of the surrounding area and then took our assigned seats for the musical, down near the front of the amphitheatre. “Texas!” was in its 48th season, a musical staged over the years with help from students and faculty at West Texas State College (now West Texas A&M) and updated in 2001 to be more historically accurate. The story is simple, with some awkward dialog and a few oddball numbers, but the musical hangs together fairly well.

Spectacles included folks on horseback in the background behind the stage and up on the canyon wall and a tree dramatically split by lightning. The musical was followed, however, by a blend of Branson-style jingoism with Vegas-style effects. There was a close-up fireworks show, blasts of flame which made us flinch from the warmth, dancing waters, and more. None of it blended with the musical and, while it was spectacular, if I wanted to see something from Branson or Vegas, then I would travel there.

I can’t offer up any photos of the show, since photographs were firmly banned. But I did shoot some video of some of the musical actors entertaining the crowd in the courtyard before the show:

After the show, we returned to our hotel to rest up, since the next morning we would be returning to enjoy the scenery of Palo Duro Canyon before heading northwest to Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Click here for a slideshow from this day

Day 2 of July Escape 2013 >

 
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Posted by on July 23, 2013 in photos, technology, travel, video

 

5x Faster Internet for $5

June 7, 2013

CableOnelogo_2Earlier this week my internet provider, Cable One, announced that as of June 10, 2013 it would be dropping the monthly data cap with overage fees on its 50 Mbps (megabits per second) internet service. They started offering that 50 Mbps service two years ago for $50/month, but internet-only users like myself, who chose not to bundle television and phone service with it, faced a 50 GB/month (gigabyte per month) cap with $0.50/GB overage fee, while those with the provider’s television/internet/phone bundle had a 100 GB/month cap with the same overage fee.

Since I’ve been using about 90 GB/month (CableOne subscribers can see their usage on their MyAccount website), moving to the old 50 Mbps plan from my uncapped Premium 10 Mbps plan would have increased my monthly bill from $53/month to approximately $70/month, plus the cost of renting or purchasing a DOCSIS 3.0 cable modem. That was too steep for me, so I stayed on the uncapped slower plan. Their change in policy, however, meant I could upgrade to the faster plan at minimal cost.

The faster plan is not necessarily unlimited; Cable One says they will still have a soft cap of 300 GB/month, urging subscribers who exceed that cap to move to new plans they will eventually offer: 60 Mbps with a 400 GB/month cap and 70 Mbps with a 500 GB/month cap.

Once CableOne pushed out a revision to their service agreement, confirming that the higher 300 GB/month cap would be going into effect, I went to my local CableOne office and upgraded to their 50 Mbps plan. I told them I had a DOCSIS 2.0 modem (a D-Link DCM-202), which I purchased years back to avoid rental charges. They said it would max out at between 20 and 30 Mbps, so I decided to rent from them a DOCSIS 3.0 modem, a Motorola SB6180. Switching to the 50 Mbps plan for $50/month, plus $8/month for the modem rental, increased my monthly cost for internet service from $53/month to $58/month. Paying $5 more per month for five times more bandwidth makes good sense. I could buy a used Motorola SB6180 for $40, but given the speed at which the internet is evolving (pun intended), I’ll probably just rent from them.

I went home and swapped out the cable modems. The internet came right up, but I didn’t have time until that evening to test the bandwidth. Aargh!  It was still running at 10 Mbps for downloads instead of the 50 Mbps I had purchased.

I was distracted by other business for a few days and then today I confirmed I was still only getting 10 Mbps. So I telephoned their local number and their automated system directed me to one of their internet support folks. He rebooted my modem, and voila! My download bandwidth quintupled. I should have thought of rebooting the modem myself, but their tech support was prompt and painless.

Below are the bandwidth results I’ve been getting with speedtest.net on my desktop computer and its iOS app on my iPad and iPhone 5, all via my Apple Airport Extreme A1354 router.

Device Connection Type Download Speed (Mbps) Upload Speed (Mbps)
Windows 7 Desktop Ethernet to Airport Extreme Router 47-48 2.2
iPad Airport Extreme Router
802.11n 5 GHz WiFi
20 2.4
Airport Extreme Router
802.11n 2.5 GHz WiFi
18 2.4
iPhone 5 Airport Extreme Router
802.11n 5 GHz WiFi
22 2.4
Airport Extreme Router
802.11n 2.5 GHz WiFi
21 2.4

Speedtest.net says my desktop’s internet download bandwidth is faster than 73% of the U.S., but the overhead on my WiFi network lowers my real-world WiFi speed to about 20 Mbps, which is faster than about 65% of the U.S.

Will this speed upgrade make a significant difference in my internet experience?  Yes, if it prevents some of the pauses and stuttering I encounter with YouTube clips and other streaming video. Streaming video, in the form of podcasts, Netflix, YouTube, iTunes, and Amazon Instant Video, has almost completely displaced broadcast television for me, and I cancelled my cable television service over five years ago.

I hope the upgrade makes downloading the morning newspaper a bit faster, although I get the Tulsa World on my iPad over WiFi, so it will only double, not quintuple, that speed — if the newspaper’s servers can push the bits fast enough in the first place.

My new 50 Mbps service is still 20 times slower than the 1 Gbps service Google Fiber offers in Kansas City for $70/month. But I once connected online using a 300 baud analog modem, so my new service is over 166,000 times faster than that, which makes me feel much better. :)

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2013 in technology

 

Unexpected Obsolescence

March 30, 2013
From the Google Graveyard

From the Google Graveyard

Planned obsolescence has been a driver of our consumer culture since the Great Depression. I tend to resist it with respect to durable goods: my car is 12 years old and has over 200,000 miles on it, and my home repairs include appliance repairs, rather than replacements, whenever practical. However, the fast pace of technological development forces me to upgrade computers and related devices more frequently. I tend to buy high-powered desktop systems and use them for about five years, but I’ve been replacing my iPhone every two years and have frequently replaced my Kindle book readers and iPads.

The internet churns at an even faster pace. Companies and services come and go, with a long list of services I once relied upon which are now essentially defunct. I don’t particularly mourn dead online services like CompuServe or WebShots, but they certainly were useful to me in their day.  But it is disruptive when the plug is pulled on a service you still rely upon. In a couple of weeks CableOne, my internet service provider, is pulling the plug on its webpages service, which forced me to relocate/recreate some websites with new providers. But what really has irked me is Google.

Google has a history of creating extremely useful free services, luring me into relying upon them, and then killing them off. This has happened with Google Notebook, will happen shortly with Google Reader, and will happen later this year with iGoogle. Slate has a nice Google Graveyard where you can put a flower on the graves of services you loved in their day.

My iGoogle homepage

My iGoogle homepage

I use iGoogle as my homepage, having set it up with a number of RSS feeds which show me the latest articles from a variety of favorite websites. That includes a list of articles pushed to me via Google Reader. I like to scan article headlines from certain sites and always read certain webcomics via Google Reader. Now I have to shift over to an alternate service for my RSS feeds and I might as well switch my homepage to a new service as well. What a pain! These services are not obsolete for me, even if many people now rely upon Twitter instead of RSS, dip into the random posts by their Facebook friends, or use FlipBoard and the like on tablets to see news articles.

I want to retain my one-screen listing of article headlines from my favorite sites which I can quickly scan each time I activate my desktop browser. So I’ve been looking at possible Google Reader replacements and the same  for iGoogle, reading through one set of suggested alternatives after another, and there is an exhaustive listing if I get desperate.

Thus far I’m playing with igHome as an iGoogle replacement and it looks like Feedly is a good replacement for Google Reader, but no one has written a Feedly gadget for igHome yet, so I’ll keep using iGoogle and Google Reader/Feedly for now.

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2013 in technology, web design

 
 
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