Why I’m glad I’m not using Adobe software

Recently these folks uncovered some questionable behaviour by Adobe’s CS3 products. While in the end, the issue may not be as severe as initially expected, as explained here, I’m still glad I’m not an Adobe user.

It’s not that tracking user habits is per se wrong. It’s just that any kind of tracking whatsoever is downright evil without giving the user a very clear and explicit choice in the matter. Adobe obviously didn’t exercise that care.

As time passes, I see more vendors doing these things, obfuscated or not. Each and every time something like this hits the news, I’m quite glad I don’t use commercial software any more.

Cool CompactFlash

Besides the Secure Digital format CompactFlash is one of the most popular types of flash memory currently available. CF is sold by almost every memory supplier known to man. So what to buy. Most manufacturers clearly specify speed, as a multiple of the old single speed CD-ROM (150KB/sec). However there is one important factor which sets just two manufacturers apart from the bunch. Namely supported operating temperatures. SanDisk and Transcend are the only ones to officially support operating temperatures of -25 to 85 degrees Celsius. Most others either don’t specify operating temperatures or only support 0 to 70 degrees Celsius. At first that doesn’t seem that significant. However it wouldn’t be that uncommon for most people to use their camera at temperatures say slightly below zero. The explanation for this being… well… something called Winter.

Conclusion… Go SanDisk.

Gigabit Ethernet

With Gigabit Ethernet equipment prices dropping like bricks, I acquired a Conceptronic Gigabit Ethernet Switch. And ofcourse I put it to the test. I transfered some big files from an Athlon XP 3000+ with a Broadcom Gigabit Ethernet NIC running vsftpd to a Core 2 Duo E6850 using lftp, putting the new switch smack in the middle of them. I measured sustained transfer rates of 30MB/sec. And when transfering cached files, I got about 50MB/sec. I also noticed the CPU usage on the Athlon reached 100% suggesting the switch isn’t the bottleneck. Not bad for an el’cheapo switch.

Deep Chess on Ubuntu

Recently I’ve been exploring chess options for Ubuntu. The default GNOME Chess application is reasonably nice. It uses the GNU Chess engine by default. However there are other options. The repositories actually have several engines:

  • Crafty
  • Fruit
  • Sjeng (also used by Mac OS X Chess)

The Crafty engine is probably the strongest of the lot. Especially if you install the crafty-books-medium package, which beefs up Crafty’s play. Even then, crafty only uses a single processor to calculate it’s moves. If you have a modern dual core processor, you can enable multithreading by editing the /etc/crafty.rc file like so:

hash=12M
hashp=3M
show book
egtb=0
mt=2
exit

Make sure the mt value equals the number of processors times the cores (of each processor). So if you have 2 processors with 4 cores each, mt should be 8. A more down to earth value would be 1, as most modern computers have a single processor with two cores (1×2).

I’m LPI Certified Level Two

Yay! Today I received notice, that the test (LPI202) I took during T-DOSE was succesfull.  A couple of weeks back, I didn’t have much time to prepare, but I decided to give it a shot anyways, and I made it anyways, though not with a good score as I was used to.

Next stop UCP…

80PLUS

I recently came across one of these Cooler Master Real Power Pro 520W power supplies. The fact that the PSU is modular is great, it’ll save you some cable clutter in your computer case. However, the coolest thing about the Cooler Master power supply is its 80PLUS certification. If a power supply is 80PLUS certified, it should be at least 80% energy efficient at all load levels. Now that doesn’t sound very impressive does it? I mean 80% efficient means 20% is wasted on heat.

Cheap (Passive PFC) power supplies are easily only 70% efficient. And that efficiency is usually only reached with high load, as power supplies tend to get more efficient with increasing load. So in real life, the power supplies effiency may very well be below 70%.

Better power supplies have Active PFC, which means they’re more efficient, which is good. However the efficiency rating supplied by the manufacturers for these, is usually best case. So in real life you’re probably stuck somewhere slightly above 75%.

Now enter 80PLUS, these babies are always at least 80% efficient, no matter the load. So besides the fact it’s good for the environment, it will save you money. When taking the dutch energy prices into account, this will probably save you about 5EUR per year, for average computer use. Computers which are always on, will easily save you 10EUR per year.

Even when not considering the energy use, you should never skimp on your power supply, buying a cheap power supply might even cause your computer to destabilize at times, especially when your power line isn’t conditioned, lucky for us that the dutch power grid is relatively stable. Pricier power supplies are much better equiped for handling brief brownouts than cheaper ones. And some even have built in overcurrent protection.

PhotoRec

I recently purchased a new digital camera, along with my camera I purchased a SanDisk Ultra III CompactFlash card. The salesman emphasized the fact that SanDisk included file recovery software with its CompactFlash. Of course that’s commendable, however it’s not of very much use for me on Ubuntu.

But fear not, Ubuntu has PhotoRec. PhotoRec is a small curses application which is included in the testdisk Ubuntu package. PhotoRec can scan a block devices’ surface (this can be anything, from a memory card, usb stick, harddisk to a DVD) and recognize lost files. This ofcourse only works if the device has not been badly physically damaged or too much files have been written over the old lost data.

This all sounds nice ofcourse. But how does it actually fare in practice? Well I put it to the test, a fairly obvious test. Most camera’s have a built-in “format memory card” feature, which rebuilds a new and empty filesystem table on the memory card. This effectively makes all the old data inaccessible using conventional methods. Although inaccessible, the data is still there! Unless you start overwriting the data!

First I took a 1GB CompactFlash card, which I formatted in my camera. Next I started taking pictures (in RAW+JPG mode) until the CF card was full. I backupped the contents of the CF card on my computer. Then I reinserted the CF card into my camera and intentionally formatted it again (simulating an accidental format). Taking the CF card back to my computer confirmed the CF card was formatted, all the files were “gone”. Running PhotoRec immediately after the format, revealed all the old files again. PhotoRec never touches (writes to) the original media, so it will never worsten your situation. PhotoRec always saves the recovered files to another location.

Having completed the above, I had two sets of data, the original backupped files, and the recovered ones. Time for a comparison I’d say. All the JPEG files were perfectly recovered, the recovered files were byte-for-byte identical to the originals. The raw files were a different story, the checksums didn’t match, not even for a single file. The filesizes also didn’t match, they were close though, most files deviated only a 100 bytes from the original. Luckily UFRaw never even noticed, it read the recovered files asif nothing ever happened.

So if you ever accidentially erase your memory card, don’t fear, PhotoRec is here. Just stop using the card until you have time to recover it. In my test situation it fared nearly perfectly. Your mileage may vary.

Why Evolution (occasionally) rocks

Like most folks I pick up my work mail using the IMAP protocol. Evolution is a mail client which understands IMAP. It has recently (and not so recently) gotten a lot of flak about it’s usability, it’s memory hogging, and so on.

However, in the past month Evolution has really become a killer application for me… Seriously! I generally use multiple desktops, this means, even though Evolution periodically checks my IMAP box for new messages, I probably won’t see them, because I’m working on another desktop. Now, Evolution sends messages on DBUS when it has a new (unread) message available. To actually do something with that message you need to install mail-notification and mail-notification-evolution. The mail-notification applet displays a popup whenever such a messages is received. Effectively this means I now can quickly respond to support calls without having to switch desktops all the time.

Besides the notification goodness, there’s another killer feature. Like most companies we have a dedicated support e-mail address, which automatically posts the e-mail in our issue tracking system. However, some customers have the nasty habbit of mailing directly with an employee after they noticed his e-mail address in a reply. Effectively this means such a support call does not end up in the issue tracking system, and could be accidentally neglected. However Evolution comes to the rescue by providing a mail redirect feature. The redirect feature allows you to resend the received message to another address, without touching the sender header. So when redirecting an e-mail to our issue tracking system, the issue tracker system still sends a confirmation e-mail to the original sender (instead of the employee redirecting it). Simple yet very effective.

Printing & Binding

In the past I’ve dealt with the typesetting of documents and the selection of paper to be printed on. However this obviously leaves two steps: printing and binding. Here are some fast tips:

When printing an important document (like for example your thesis) always try to use a Laser printer, even if this means you would need to have it printed elsewhere. Laser printers generally have higher resolutions which make the characters/glyphs cleaner and smoother. Laser printed documents also should generally last longer in archives.

If you fail to gain access to a decent Laser printer, you can fall back to your inkjet printer. Preferably use original cartridges. The cheaper refill inks often bleed more, and quite likely may not last in archives. Most original vendor inks should easily last decades in proper archival circumstances.

In both cases you should avoid “Fast” or “Draft” printing modes, always check your printer is set to “High Quality”.

Finally when you’re done printing you should have your important document bound. The most common way to bind documents is to use a plastic coil. But don’t! Plastic coil binding looks cheap (and actually is cheap). Plastic coil binding often isn’t durable enough to stand the rigors of being intensively handled by multiple people.

The next option would be to have your document glued. This process is relatively expensive. Most schools don’t offer it, you’ll need to look for a more professional copyshop for that. Glued documents are reasonably durable and look just fantastic.

The final and most durable option would be metal coil binding. A metal coil will resist any trials you throw at it, the paper will give way first. Metal coils are cheaper than glueing, but avoids the cheap look that plastic coils induce. Most shops will have you choose between bare metal and black metal coils. You should use black metal coils to go with white paper for maximum contrast and bare metal coils with creme paper to complement its natural/elegant look.

Quality Assurance

A while back, I quit the PC gaming scene altogether because of a total lack of quality assurance was driving me mad. Most PC games are released month’s before they are actually ready to go. When you buy a new PC game in the stores, it’s quite likely it simply won’t work without at least first downloading a 100MB patch.

A few days back, I ordered the Command & Conquer: The First Decade. Which is great value. The kit has all Westwood games since the original Command & Conquer, up until Generals: Zero Hour. All the games have very recent patches already applied on disc. EA also got rid of the ennoying and slow original installers and unified all the games into a single proper windows installer with no fuss. However, EA even botched this job. Without the 1.02 patch, the original C&C and Red Alert are missing some videos and sounds. Now comes the cool part. After applying the patch, your installation directory is polluted with more than half a gigabyte of crap. So they basically bork the original games, and then bork the patch that’s supposed to unbork the games.

Such issues aren’t confined to EA (EA is just the worst of the pack), almost all PC gaming company don’t do enough QA on their games. Why? Just because they can. The Internet has enabled the gaming companies to put crap on the store shelves and fix it later, whenever it’s convenient.