Hydroelectric Power

On this day in 1882 the world’s first commercial hydroelectric plant (later to be known as Appleton Edison Light Company) began operation on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin, US.

Clean power was born in a time of dark and dingy coal powered factories and generation facilities… a small reprieve back to the days that spawned the industrial revolution where mechanical power was harnessed from flowing water just as it had been for many years before.

Today we have many hydroelectric power plants and a moderate amount of power in the US is produced from the flow of water (much more than from other renewable resources), yet by far most of the power produced in the US is from fossil fuels.  Fossil fuel imports accounts for a sizable portion of our trade deficit.

America has had several wake-up calls, and for well over thirty years has chosen to ignore the inevitable — we must use our resources more wisely, we must conserve, we must reduce, we must increase efficiency, and we must find alternatives.

Originally posted 2010-09-30 02:00:18.

So you want to be in pictures…

Or rather should I say that you want to be able to play “moving pictures” on your computer…

You computer may have come with software for playing back video, DVDs, etc — or the operating system version you installed might support some formats; but eventually you’re going to reach a point where you want to play something that you don’t have support for and you might not feel like spending a lot of money.

There are two major issues with playing back media:

  1. Your computer needs software that is able to decode the audio and the video portions of the media; and
  2. Your computer needs software that is able to “break apart” the audio from the video.

The first piece of software is call a “decoder” — or often times a codec.  And you’ll hear things like MPEG1, MPEG2, MPEG4, H.264, etc for video and things like AC3, AAC, PCM, DTS, MP3, etc for audio.

The second piece of software is called a mux (specifically for play back a de-mux) — and those take particular containers and split them into the separate audio and video streams.  The file extension generally tell you about the “envelope” the data is contained in, or how it was muxed.  Some standards mux specifications, but even when the audio/video standard includes a way to mux the data, it might be in a richer envelope that supports alternate audio streams, alternate video streams, hyperlinks, closed captions, multiple languages, etc.

A growing open standard for containing audio and video is the Matroska format.  It’s generally designated as .mkv for audio/video files and .mka for audio files.

It’s a rich standard well supported on Windows, OS-X, and *nix platforms.

For more information visit the Matroska Offical Homepage:

You’ll not only find information on the Matroska format, but links to many free tools to help you play back that audio and video format you’re having trouble with.

Originally posted 2008-12-14 01:00:52.

Solar Panels

I just did a little exercise in trying to figure out if solar panels would be cost effective for me.

Using my latitude and longitude; NREL and NASA data; along with the ratings from a couple of the manufacturers of the most cost effective panels currently produced it appears that for about $750 I can produce enough electricity to run two [small] compact florescent lights — or a little less than $30 in electricity per year (at today’s rate).

So considering the energy and tax savings the panel couldn’t pay for itself in ten years (and that’s just the panel, that doesn’t include the batteries, inverter, installation, etc).  Plus, I suspect it’s unlikely that a solar panel would last ten years here.

I’d say that solar panels have to increase in cost/performance by a factor of roughly 2x before they’d be feasible here (and we get quite a bit of sun).

I’m always on the lookout for ways to be a little more “green”; but I also believe that any solution needs to be sustainable; and I’m sure if I consider the impact of the production of the panels into this “equation” I’m going to find [here] that solar panels really aren’t that “green”.

I’ll have to keep looking for other options that might be more effective.

Originally posted 2009-08-13 01:00:36.

Google Music (Beta)

Google launched Google Music Beta a little over a month ago, and I’ve been using it since shortly after that.

Currently it’s free; allows you to upload up to 20,000 songs, and will play back that music through any browser, or through Android’s Music App (you will need the updated version that’s icon looks like a headset).

The Music Manager can be installed on a number of operating system, and can upload directories of music, or upload music from an iTune or Windows Media library… you do need to be patient, even on the fastest setting the manager will take quite some time to upload a large music library (I have 17,998 sound; origially I uploaded about 14,500 songs and it took almost 10 days).

The manager will detect changes to the files and automatically sync with the music cloud storage — and you can edit meta tags via the web interface as well.

The biggest downside of Google’s Music Beta is that there isn’t really any way to download the music from the cloud — say you had a local disk crash and wanted to get the music back in a library format (it does allow you to cache content locally for off-line playback).  Obviously the files are downloaded to your computer, but it’d take quite a bit of work to reorganize them (I’ll actually experiment with the cache to see if you could use something like MediaMonkey to reorganize the cache into a library — I don’t know if the ID3 tags are pulled down with the music stream or not).

While it’s free, it’s a great value — and it works very well; I’ve had no problem streaming music on 3G (you’ll want an unlimited data plan for sure)… the only potential issue you might have is that if your home internet provider caps your transfers per month (or charges for overages) you may want to upload parts of your library over several months (my library is 128GB — so almost the entire amount AT&T allows on DSL service and half what AT&T allows on U-Verse service once they start metering ).

Provided you’re not an iPhone user — I recommend you take a look at it; now if Google starts charging, you may want to consider using the Amazon service.  It’s $20 per year for unlimited music and 20GB of anything you want; or $5GB (total) if free.  The downside of the Amazon plan is that the MPAA and RIA are allowed to scan your files (there’s no privacy), and the price may change.  I can’t really speak much about the Amazon service since I’ve only played with the free storage (which isn’t anywhere near enough to store even a meaningful fraction of my library).  If you’re an iPhone user, you’ll want to look at the Apple music cloud service.

For the time being, the Google service is the best deal in town… you can check it out via:

Google Music Beta

Originally posted 2011-10-15 02:00:09.

iOS 4

With the announcement of iPhone 4 Apple announced the a new version of their phone / media player operating systems — iOS 4; which will ship on the iPhone 4 and be offered as a free upgrade to iPhone 3G and 3GS users as well as second and third generation iPod touch users.

I’m sure everyone will be quick to tether their Apple device to iTune and apply the upgrades…

Originally posted 2010-06-10 10:50:15.

Online Capacity Expansion

Well…

  • Call me old fashion…
  • Call me conservative…
  • Call me a doubting “Thomas”…
  • Call me tickled pink…
  • Call me surprised…

I just finished adding four additional spindles to one of my virtual hosts; when I originally built it out I only had four spindles available, and didn’t want to buy more since I knew I would be freeing up smaller spindles for it soon.

The first task was to have the RAID software add the new spindles to the array, then to “expand” the array container… the first step took only a few moments, the second step took about 20 hours for the array controller to rebuild / expand the array.

The second task was to get Windows to actually use the added space by expanding the volume; to do that was a simple matter of using diskpart.exe (you can search Microsoft’s Knowledge Base) only took a few moments.

The incredible thing about this was that my virtual host and virtual machines was online for the entire 20 hours — with absolutely no service interruption.

This particular machine used a Dell / LSI controller; but the Promise controllers also support dynamic capacity expansion as do 3Ware controllers.  I believe the Intel Matrix pseudo RAID controller also support dynamic capacity expansion; but as with other RAID and pseudo-RAID controllers you should check the documentation specific to it and consult the manufacturer’s web site for errata and updates before proceeding.

The bottom line is Windows and RAID arrays have come a long way, and it’s quite possible that you will be able to expand the capacity of your array without taking your server down; however, if the data on the server is irreplaceable, I recommend you consider backing it up (at least the irreplaceable data).

Originally posted 2008-12-01 12:00:56.

Linux File System Fragmentation

I’ve always found it hilarious that *nix bigots (particularly Linux bigots) asserted that their file systems, unlike those found in Windows, didn’t fragment.

HA HA

Obviously most anyone who would make that assertion really doesn’t know anything about file systems or Windows.

It’s true that back in the ancient times of Windows when all you had was FAT or FAT32 that fragmentation was a real problem; but as of the introduction for HPFS in OS/2 and then NTFS in Windows NT fragmentation in a Windows system was on par with fragmentation in a *nix system.

Though you’ll recall that in Windows, even with NTFS, defragmentation was possible and tools to accomplish it were readily available (like included with the operating system).

Ext2, Ext3, Ext4 — and most any other file system known to man might (like NTFS) attempt to prevent file system fragmentation, but it happens — and over time it can negatively impact performance.

Interesting enough, with Ext4 there appears to be fewer *nix people in that great river in Egypt — d Nile… or denial as it were.

Ext4 is a very advanced file system; and most every trick in the book to boost performance and prevent fragmentation is includes — along with the potential for defragmentation.  The tool e4defrag will allow for the defragmentation of single files or entire file systems — though it’s not quite ready… still a few more kernel issues to be worked out to allow it to defragment a live file system.

With Ext4 as with NTFS one way you can defragment a file is copy it, the file system itself will attempt to locate an area of the disk that can hold the file in continuous allocation unites — but, of course, the file system’s performance can often be increased to coalescing the free space, or at least coalescing free space that is likely too small to hold a file.

As I said when I started; I’ve always found it hilarious that *nix bigots often don’t have a very good understanding of the technical limitations and strengths of various pieces of an operating system… but let me underscore just because people don’t always know what they’re talking about doesn’t necessarily mean that the solution they’re evangelizing might not be something that should be considered.

Originally posted 2010-06-03 02:00:06.

Two Weeks and All’s Well

It’s been over two weeks since I started the migration from 1and1 hosting to JustHost and right at two weeks since I moved my BLOG.

I have to say I’m very happy with JustHost.  Things worked the way they should (well, yeah, there were a few things I had to figure out, but that’s been true of every hosting service I’ve ever used personally or for clients), and things have continued to work well.

JustHost is different than 1and1 in many ways; and my main reason to seek another hosting company was to find one that offered Server Side Includes (SSI) at a reasonable price (yes, I can do most everything that SSI does through AJAX call backs, but it’s so much more efficient for the server to just send the information; and I could have actually wrapped the page in PHP and essentially done what a SSI would have done through PHP).

If you’re looking for a hosting company, I do encourage you to click the ad to the right and review their packages.  The price is extremely attractive, they get very good marks in most every review, and they just work.

Originally posted 2010-02-20 01:00:00.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln

Friday Fourteen April Nineteen-hundred and Sixty-five (Good Friday) Confederate sympathizer (and possibly Confederate agent) John Wilkes Booth shot and fatally wounded President Abraham Lincoln as one part of a much larger conspiracy.

Assassination has a long history of being used to force political change; however, Abraham Lincoln was the first of four sitting American presidents to be assassinated (there have been many more attempts).

While it’s clear at this juncture there is a need for a radical change in our government, my hope is that it can be achieved through peaceful, constructive change.

Originally posted 2010-04-14 01:30:45.

Adorama — Follow Up

This is a follow up to a fairly unflattering post I made on a purchase from Adorama.

First, the time line of the entire espisode for reference, my thoughts follow.

  • 2008/12/26: I order a Sunpak CF-7078 Twin Filter Pack (52mm Ultra-Violet and 52mm Circular Polarizing) from Adorama through Amazon (Amazon was out of stock).
  • 2008/12/18: Adorama ships my order, and sends tracking information.
  • 2008/12/31: My order arrives, but Adorama has substituted a Tiffen filter set without contacting me (the invoice clearly indicates that it’s intentional).
  • 2008/12/31: I contact both Adorama and Amazon via Amazon’s web interface).
  • 2008/12/31: I contact my credit card company via telephone; they indicate their will be no issue initiating a charge back, but ask that I give the merchant time to resolve the matter first.
  • 2009/01/01: Amazon replies to my inquiry and indicates that vendors may not materially change an order and that the Amazon A-Z Guarantee would apply should I not be able to resolve the matter with Adorama.
  • 2009/01/04: Adorama has sends me a pre-paid UPS shipping label for the return of the items via email.  Though the instructions indicate that I must drop off the item at a shipping location.
  • 2009/01/05: I’ve also been contacted by Helen Oster, Adorama Camera Customer Service Ambassador who has read my BLOG post and interested in investigating the matter.  I’ve already sent her enough information to get her started.  I’ll be sure and post anything of interest that happens.
  • 2009/01/06: The Tiffen filters to Adorama via UPS, my regular UPS delivery person picked them up for me, so I didn’t need to drive to UPS to drop them off (but I was still out packing material and time).
  • 2009/01/09: Adorama has offered an explanation (that their buyer felt it was acceptable to replace an out of stock item with an in stock item that retailed for more, without contacting the customer first); while I accept this as an explanation, I find it an unacceptable practice.  Only I can decide what product has equal or greater value, since only I am able to gauge the metrics of the products I choose to fit my needs.  Also, Adorama is attempting to “make this right”, and I certainly applaud their effort — but it would have been easier on everyone had someone just ask what I wanted before shipping a substitution.  Additionally Adorama offers a single Hoya filter as a replacement; I reject that offer simply because I would still need to buy an additional filter.
  • 2009/01/10: Adorama offers two Hoya filters in place of the Sunpak.  I agree to this and they ship the filters (I have an order pending for the Sunpak filter set on Amazon; that’s what I wanted, and that’s what I’ll have — but I certainly felt like I needed to let Adorama exercise their right to “make it right”).
  • 2009/01/16: The Hoya Filters arrive as promised.

Let me start by saying that this matter probably should be characterized as one individual making a bad decision that was inconsistent with the Corporate polices of Adorama, I think Helen’s dedication to making things right, and Adorama’s willingness to incur substantial costs in this matter is evidence of that.

I rarely appraise companies by whether or not they make mistakes, but rather by how they address their mistakes.  While I would have preferred to just get the items I ordered in a timely fashion; or been told their was no stock, I would put forth that you simply could not find a company more willing to go the extra mile; or an individual (Helen Oster) with more moral fibre and tenacity to make sure the right thing is done.

Initially I felt that I would never deal with Adorama again; but my feeling is that they’re certainly worth a second shot (each of you will need to decide for yourself, since this is my only dealings with Adorama I do not have a feel for statistically how often something like this may happen, other than to say my gut tells me it’s rare).

Originally posted 2009-01-16 01:00:20.