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Compression

There are two distinct features that Windows Server 2008 outshines Linux on; and both are centric on compression.

For a very long time Microsoft has supported transparent compression as a part of NTFS; you can designate on a file-by-file or directory level what parts of the file system are compressed by the operating system (applications need do nothing to use compressed files).  This feature was probably originally intended to save the disk foot print of seldom used files; however, with the explosive growth in computing power what’s happened is that compressed files can often be read and decompressed much faster from a disk than a uncompressed file can.  Of course, if you’re modifying say a byte or two in the middle of a compressed file over and over, it might not be a good idea to mark it as compressed — but if you’re basically reading the file sequentially then compression may dramatically increase the overall performance of the system.

The reason for this increase is easy to understand; many files can be compressed ten to one (or better), that means each disk read is reading effectively ten times the information, and for a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor to decompress this stream of data put no appreciable burden on the processing unit(s).

Recently, with SMBv2, Microsoft has expanded the file sharing protocol to be able to transport a compressed data stream, or even a differential data stream (Remote Differential Compression – RDC) rather than necessarily having to send every byte of the file.  This also has the effect of often greatly enhancing the effect data rate, since once again a modern, multi-core, single-instruction/multiple-data capable processor can compress (and decompress) a data stream at a much higher rate than most any network fabric can transmit the data (the exception would be 10G).  In cases of highly constrained networks, or networks with extremely high error rates the increase in effect through put could be staggering.

Unfortunately, Linux lags behind in both areas.

Ext4 does not include transparent compression; and currently no implementation of SMBv2 is available for Linux servers (or clients).

While there’s no question, what-so-ever, that the initial cost of a high performance server is less if Linux is chosen as the operating system, the “hidden” costs of lacking compression may make the total cost of ownership harder to determine.

Supporting transparent compression in a file system is merely a design criteria for a new file system (say Ext5 or Ext4.1); however, supporting SMBv2 will be much more difficult since (unlike SMBv1) it is a closed/proprietary file sharing protocol.

Originally posted 2010-07-11 02:00:49.

7-Zip Archiver

I was shocked to learn that everyone doesn’t know aobut 7-Zip!!!

Z-Zip is a very good archive utility for Windows; from the 7-Zip web site:

  • High compression ratio in new 7z format with LZMA compression
  • Supported formats:
    • Packing / unpacking: 7z, ZIP, GZIP, BZIP2 and TAR
    • Unpacking only: RAR, CAB, ISO, ARJ, LZH, CHM, MSI, WIM, Z, CPIO, RPM, DEB and NSIS
  • For ZIP and GZIP formats, 7-Zipprovides a compression ratio that is 2-10 % better than the ratio provided by PKZip and WinZip
  • Strong AES-256 encryption in 7z and ZIP formats
  • Self-extracting capability for 7z format
  • Integration with Windows Shell
  • Powerful File Manager
  • Powerful command line version
  • Plugin for FAR Manager
  • Localizations for 69 languages

Other than supporting almost any and every format a Windows user is likely to encounter, it’s support for LZMA compression (one of the absolute best general compression algorithms around — only BZIP2 is even a close competitor) gives you the ability to create small archives for upload, email, etc.

Originally posted 2008-12-18 12:00:21.

Discover Discover

Last week I called up Discover Financial Services to get an answer to a question I had about my Discover Card.

I’ve long considered Discover as a tertiary provider of card services; their card is not as widely accepted, and (until recently) their rewards program has been weak in comparison to others.

While all that may still be true, one of the most important qualities to appraise any service by is the quality of their customer service.

The only thing I can say is, I was floored.

The woman who assisted me was possibly the best customer service agent I’ve ever spoken with.  Her voice was soft and even toned and crystal clear.  She certainly made me feel like she was concerned that I be satisfied, and her knowledge and understanding of Discover made it a relatively easy task for her to shine.

This call caused me to reflect back on Discover as a whole, and I realized that I’ve never had a bad experience with Discover customer service.  While I won’t try and tell you that every call to Discover has been at this level, none have ever required that I ask for a supervisor.

I also realized that even the way that Discover has you identify your account is designed to make it easy for a customer (consider the credit card companies that have you key in a sixteen digit number, time out if you take too long, and rarely get the number right on the first [or third] time and then ask you for the number again when you finally end up talking to someone).

A Discover Card might not be the right fit for everyone; but take a look at their financial services, and if they look like a good fit, I encourage you to give them a test drive — you might like the experience; and as Discover grows we can only hope that other financial service companies feel the pressure to provide consumers with reasonable customer service.

Discover

http://www.discovercard.com/

NOTE: Discover Cards are issued by Discover Financial Services, GE Consumer Finance (aka GE Money Bank, ie Walmart and Sam’s Club), HSBC, and Green Dot Corporation (pre-paid) — as with VISA and Master Card the issuing financial institution is responsible for servicing the account, so your customer service experience will likely differ with a non Discover Financial Services issued card.

Originally posted 2010-08-08 02:00:20.

It’s my BLOG!

I get comments from people via my contact form fairly frequently… and I’d like to thank those that take time out to send me their thoughts.

One of the most frequent questions I get is asking why I don’t allow comments.  Well, that’s actually a very easy question.  First, this is my BLOG, and it represents my thoughts — if you want to tell the world about your thoughts, start you own BLOG (there are many BLOG sites, and you can certainly look on my BLOG for suggestions).  Second, by not allowing comments I totally avoid the problem of SPAMmers putting up comments that are really nothing but advertisements or scams.

I sadly get an incredible number of people trying to sell me SEO (Search Engine Optimization) services — at a ranking of roughly 2 million and many searches that return my sites on the first page I’m quite happy with my web site and BLOG; and I seriously doubt you know much more than I do about SEO services; so please feel free to try and scam someone more gullible and waste less of my inbox.

I also get a fair number of companies contacting me about taking a look at their product and writing a post (generally they have a similar or competing product to one that I’ve written a post on) — and I assure you that I keep all of those messages in a folder and will get around to looking at most of the products.

I get a few corrections to what I’ve said in my posts — and those I will look at right away and figure out if I’ve in fact made a mistake or I’ve simply been mis-understood.  In either case it’s likely that I’ll correct the post.  While I don’t guarantee the accuracy of anything on my web site or BLOG, I do try very hard to be credible.

And, of course, I get some hate messages — but interestingly enough I get way more people saying something along the lines of “right on” or “thanks” than I do people telling me to go f^(& myself.  You’re welcome to send message of either kind, but I’m not looking for others to validate the way I feel or think (I do recommend if you’re going to send a critical message that you consider at least spell checking it — while that won’t necessarily improve the quality of the content of your rambling… it certainly won’t hurt [though some of the spelling errors are down right hilarious]).

Originally posted 2010-07-13 02:00:29.

Political Change

I’ve seen a few articles about voters sending a signal of change this last Tuesday with an “anti-establishment” vote… the headlines sound great (along the lines of my “no incumbent” philosophy), but looking at the primary results makes me feel like the declaration of change is more comparable to ice melting in Antarctica in the Spring than anything truly significant…

Real change requires that Americans understand that we are where we are because of the short sightedness and the self-servings of  those we elect — though that said, each and ever American needs to shoulder responsibility for supporting our political leaders and our frenzied consumerism.

Simply put, there’s no such thing as a free lunch — and along with that, you can’t have everything right now.

If we American are to effect real political change, and put this country back on a track that insures our children a safe and prosperous future we need to commit to begin making changes now and pass on to each generation the responsibility and understanding of living in the present while planning for the future.

It’s not going to be an easy path, and we Americans will likely continue to have to address social ills and internal and external detractors; but we must move forward with our economy, society, and environment in a sustainable way with open hands and hearts to help the rest of the world do the same.

Originally posted 2010-05-21 02:00:42.

Garmin GPS

Thinking of buying a new GPS?

I highly recommend you consider Garmin, or a device that can run Garmin’s GPS software.

Why?

Garmin does an excellent job of updating it’s GPS software and maps… and after all, current maps are why you probably have a GPS.

If the roads, speed limits, etc never change where you drive — it doesn’t matter.  Why would you even think of a GPS if you’re always in a place you’re familiar with that never changes?

Garmin has a fairly broad range of GPS devices; and they also offer software that will run on your cell phone (Garmin XT), Windows mobile devices (Garmin XT), and your Windows laptop (Garmin PC).

I run Garmin XT on my HTC Smart Phone, I run Garmin PC on my Netbook (using an external Bluetooth or USB GPS), and I’m going to play with hacking my GPS to see if I can get Garmin XT running on it (it’s Windows mobile based, currently runs Destinator software, I’ve played with Tom Tom software on it, but I’d prefer everything run the same GPS software).

Visit Garmin’s site for more information on their products, and do an internet search for more information on hacking an existing device with a copy of Garmin’s software.

http://www.garmin.com/

Originally posted 2009-06-11 11:00:14.

50 Years of US Peace Corp

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of John F Kennedy’s founding of the US Peace Corps (1-March-1961)… originally just a pilot program, but approved and funded by congress now as an American fixture.

The Peace Corps traces its roots and mission to 1960, when then Senator John F. Kennedy challenged students at the University of Michigan to serve their country in the cause of peace by living and working in developing countries. From that inspiration grew an agency of the federal government devoted to world peace and friendship.

Since that time, 200,000+ Peace Corps Volunteers have served in 139 host countries to work on issues ranging from AIDS education to information technology and environmental preservation.

Today’s Peace Corps is more vital than ever, working in emerging and essential areas such as information technology and business development, and contributing to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Peace Corps Volunteers continue to help countless individuals who want to build a better life for themselves, their children, and their communities.

President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps to promote world peace and friendship.

The Peace Corps’ mission has three simple goals:

  1. Helping the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women.
  2. Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
  3. Helping promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

http://www.peacecorps.gov/

Originally posted 2011-03-01 02:00:46.

Linux usability

While doing my preliminary look at usability in several Linux distributions that had adopted a Mac-ish paradigm I decided I needed to lay several ground rules to fully review them.

First, I decided that using a virtual machine was fine for getting intial impressions, but that just wasn’t going to be acceptable for a complete review… and I also decide that doing a review on only one piece of hardware wasn’t going to give me a very good idea of what problems a user might see related to the computer.

It’s certainly no problem for me to find a computer or two to install these Linux distributions on and run them through their paces; however, I don’t have any “low-end” hardware, so my tests are going to use fairly current generations of hardware, so be aware that my impressions might not match your impression if you’re planning on running these on hardware that is more than a couple years old (and by a couple year old I mean hardware who’s components were current no more than two years ago).

I’ll perform the following:

  1. Install the distribution (without requiring any settings manually)
  2. Update itself (and applications)
  3. Start up, shut down, log on, log off
  4. Browse the web (that’s a given)
  5. Read email (including setting up the email program)
  6. Play a CD (music)
  7. Play several music files
  8. Play a DVD (movie)
  9. Play several video files
  10. Edit a WYSIWYG document
  11. Edit an image
  12. View and print a PDF
  13. Access a thumb drive
  14. Access files stored on a network device
  15. Access secure digital media (though a USB card reader)
  16. Scan an image
  17. Open a ZIP archive; create a ZIP archive
  18. Email an attachment, recover an email attachment
  19. Install a new (and useful) application
  20. Alter the appearance (preferably using a theme)

Beyond these simple tests I’ll try and appraise the simplicity, clarity, and ease of use of the interface… I’ll also comment on the overall appearance, the look and feel.

Originally posted 2010-01-08 01:00:19.

Gallery Images

I’ve started to add more pictures to my gallery. The first set are in and around San Francisco, CA. Since I spent twenty years living there, and visited there uncounted times before there’s a great deal to post.

I will probably break from posting San Francisco pictures and post other things as I sort through my fairly substantial set of digital stills.

It will take quite awhile before I even thing about putting up any of my old film shots.

I may try my hand at posting some high definition h.264 video clips as well (but I’ll need to get a great deal better with the camcorder before that happens).

If you desire to use any of these images, you must obtain a written authorization from me.  While I’m happy to share these for you to view, they do belong to me and I do not want them used by others (not that I really think any of them are that great).

Enjoy.

Originally posted 2010-02-25 01:00:21.

Voting Advice With Your Paycheck

A Canton, Ohio McDonald’s franchisee (Paul Siegfried) took it on himself to include an insert in his employee’s paychecks suggesting that his employees vote for three Republican candidates, also on the note was:

If the right people are elected we will be able to continue with raises and benefits at or above our present levels. If others are elected we will not.

Sounds a little intimidating / threatening… I guess this business owner didn’t feel that election laws applied to him.

It’s really a travesty that any American wouldn’t know that it’s illegal for an employer to in any way try and influence his employees to vote for or against a given candidate or measure in an election… and even if you didn’t know it’s illegal, it’s certainly immoral.

Personally I hope Mr Siegfried finds himself in jail as an example to others who simply do not feel the law applies to them… and if I were McDonald’s I think a little more than a statement saying that their franchisee doesn’t speak for them is in order, particularly since it was on a piece of stationary bearing the McDonald’s logo.

Originally posted 2010-11-01 02:00:29.