Over the past couple of weeks I have been copying large amounts of data back and forth from my desktop PCs and my ReadyNAS in order to facilitate clearing some local hard disk space and to really, honestly begin scheduled backups.  Today while copying a particularly large file (greater than 2GB if you must know) I found that the transfer rate to the ReadyNAS was a measly 10 MB/s.  I have a gigabit network setup and this represents less than 10% of the available capacity.  Obviously something is up.

I have my full-time, every-day PC running Vista with SP1 and for the most part this is a very stable and good performing platform.  I have thrown a lot of modern hardware at it, including 4GB of DDR2 RAM, two NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GTX graphics cards in SLI mode and an AMD Phenom 9950 quad core CPU, so Vista can really go fast.  However, to test out the theory that Vista might be taunting me I fired up one of my spare PCs running Windows XP with SP3.  Sure enough, transferring files to and from the NAS with XP works fine at over 22 MB/s.  Something must really be hosed with Vista, IMHO.

So, off to Google I go in search of answers, and low-and-behold I found this article at ZDNet explaning what I feared: Vista thinks it is smarter than me when it comes to prioritizing what needs to get done on the PC.  Whenever the media sub-system in Vista is active with either audio or video playback the network connection gets crunched down to its lowest level.  No matter what I tweak, disable or alter Vista will not transfer at a respectable speed unless all audio and video sources stop.  This includes playback inside of a browser such as IE7 or Firefox.  I take a deep breath and sigh.

So now I must sit in silence or play music on a separate PC if I want full network capability on my main work machine.  For this fine, new feature I award Windows Vista the “Poo of the Day” award.  I’m sure more of these awards will follow soon enough.  Windows 7 can’t get here soon enough.

Vista is blocking the tubes.

When your computer begins to slow down and then do strange things, you really do need to pay close attention because it is trying to tell you something.  In my case Vista was attempting to communicate in a very inept way that it had been attacked by some malware and was in the process of going down the drain.

First I noticed the hard drive LED flashing rapidly all the time.  Next I found that the machine wouldn’t stay in sleep mode any longer.  Browser windows would pop open for no good reason.  It was time to make a trip to my old friend MSConfig and enable the clean-boot options.  Only after booting into Safe Mode with everything disabled (and my system all but useless) did I find the culprit files hiding and renaming themselves in the Windows/System32 directory.

What followed were many reboots, the forced termination of IE7 and Explorer.exe, a reload of some critical OS files from DVD, then a determined and lengthy process of online virus scanning.  Only when all of these processes were completed was the threat finally removed.  I must once again return to my old paranoid ways: never install anything from the internet directly onto my critical PC AND always keep some kind of security (the dreaded User Account Control) turned on to slow down an attack.

And to think I was worried about being bored this holiday week.  Shame on me.

I was in a mood today to make my music listening habits a bit more social, but I found that my two current music services, Pandora and Slacker, don’t naively support sending data to Last.fm.  No problem, I thought, some enterprising hacker out there has solved this problem already.  Right I was, and now you too can have the scrobble ability if you use these two services AND also use Firefox with them:

So long as Firefox continues to be friendly with these plug-ins I’ll be using them to share the music.  That said, I’ll be impressed if this integration works for more than 6 months.  Time will tell.

Last.fm Pandora Slacker Firefox Greasemonkey

October is here and that means another trip to Thunderhill to track the C6. This year was no exception, and although I’m tired and a bit sore the car and I are no worse for wear, so far as I can tell.  The stats of note for this round of driving are as follows:

  • Average gas mileage: 8 MPG
  • Top speed achieved: 121 MPH (when I managed to look)
  • New things learned: Skipping the cool down lap means cooked brake fluid (and no brakes)
  • Sad fact: The gas gauge read empty at just 124 miles… while lapping another car, thus ending my driving for the day

I could find no new cool cars at this track day to take photos of so an artsy pic of my car and helmet will just have to do this time around.

CA DMV logo

For those of us living in the republic of California and owning older vehicles, we have to put up with an annual mandatory visit to a “certified” SMOG test station to see if our vehicle is still “legal” to drive on the road.  Unlike safety inspections found in other states, however, this test is nothing more than a way to extract additional money from your pocket if you wish to keep driving on the roads.  It works like this:

  • You first pay about $90-ish for the registration and license fees
  • Instructions tell you to go and SMOG test your vehicle for “a nominal fee”
  • The SMOG test station finds ways to have their costs add up to $65 or more
  • If your car doesn’t pass the “test” you have to pay the $65 again once you figure out what’s wrong

This setup seems like a way to fleece those folks who, like me, mindlessly follow the rules set forth by the state.  I’ve seen cars with current registration stickers which clearly spew forth a toxic stew while driving, so am I to believe that the DMV feels these furnaces of CO2 pollution are OK to drive on the road?  Meanwhile, if you haven’t replaced your car air filter in a couple of years you fail the test and another $65 is removed from your pocket.

All of this silliness is almost enough to make someone move out of state, or at least put their vehicle registration elsewhere.  Sheesh.

I decided to push the limits a bit for my birthday this year and see just how much airplane I could handle.  What I learned is that while I can probably fly a bigger, faster, more complicated airplane just fine it isn’t a walk in the park by any means.

This trip included a flight in a rare (for renters) bird indeed:  the Beech Mentor T-34A/B.  The flying club happens to have one and my CFI is checked out in it so we took it for an hour around the Half Moon Bay area.  What makes it tricky for me is the amount of “new” stuff it has: constant speed prop, manifold pressure, retractable landing gear, flaps, fuel pumps, 250+ HP and all sorts of tricky on the ground handling.  It was fast and slippery in the air and I felt like I was behind the the airplane whenever we had to change the flight configuration.  But while it was flying it was silky smooth and the best handling plane I’ve yet flown.

If it weren’t so expensive to fly (over $230 per hour) it would be a great plan to check out in and have in the back pocket to impress visitors.  As it is, in today’s flight dollars, the T-34 is a rare treat to experience when you can afford the ability to do so.  Definitely recommended to fly.

53158 more photos in the album

DirecTV HR20

It has been almost a year since I was forced to give up my wonderful HD-Tivo box for the “improved” DirecTV version called the HR20.  Since I’ve had the box I’ve needed to make a lot of adjustments, but one new adjustment just isn’t sitting well with me: lock ups and reboots once per week.

You see, DirecTV doesn’t seem to understand the concept of QA or beta testing.  Whenever they get a new update for the software inside the HR20 they just push it out the door to millions of customers.  For anyone that has ever gotten a bad update on their computer, you know what happens sometimes… things just fall apart.  Well, in my case I lose TV programs and the PVR just stops working.

Normally this would seem to be just a silly rant, after all, it is only TV, right?  Well, what if you paid nearly $100 a month for that TV signal and some of the programs provided were watch-it-once-then-it’s-gone sorts of things?  That’s what I have and that is why I’m so mad about this latest round of mess ups from DirecTV. 

The best part is that they kept me waiting on the phone for 48 minutes the other day just to tell me to reformat my PVR (that didn’t work) and that yes, Virginia, they have a problem and they don’t know if/whether they will fix it and if they do/don’t they won’t call me back to confirm the fix (or not).  Great customer service!

This weekend on the recommendation of a friend I went to see “Wanted” with another friend.  I was promised that this would be an exciting summer movie and that did turn out to be the case.  This is this director’s first time creating an English language film and it worked well.  His visual style is similar to what you’ve seen if you recall the “Matrix” or BMW “Driver” but with some still unique flair.

In typical movie fashion, the gun-play is completely unrealistic and defies the laws of physics, but that doesn’t make the film any less enjoyable to watch.  It certainly helps that the film contains both Angelina Jolie and Morgan Freeman, great music from Danny Elfman and some great locations.  There are exploding rats, lots of crashes and explosions and some of the oddest and eye popping gun fight scenes to be watched this year.

If you can tolerate blood and guts and some strong language and would like to see a movie that requires you to turn off your rational brain for a few hours this movie fits the bill nicely.  I liked it and it makes for great popcorn fare.

Wanted poster

Just over a week has passed since I was RIF’d from my most recent job at AMD.  It is taking some getting used to waking up in the morning with no structured day or firm place to go.  On the plus side, I am using substantially less fuel than I was just a few weeks ago, so that must be good I guess.  In the meantime I continue to look around for what my next gig will be.

Next on the list of things to be worried about is my flying or lack thereof.  I’m at a point in my training where I must complete a written test before I can get any closer to getting my pilot’s license.  It’s a bear, since it is an array of questions, numbers, arithmetic and other stuff that I have to know cold before I go in and take the test.  I’m getting better, but rote memorization has never been my strong point.

Finally, I’ve used my abundance of spare time to go around the house and fix just about everything that is doable by myself.  With that complete I’ve spent a lot of time visiting Liberty City (in GTA4) and Turkfrackistan (in BF: Bad Company).  Sadly, neither of these locations helps me either exercise, meet women or get a tan.  I do get to meet new and interesting people, then shoot them, so it does have some perks.

the 86 file

If my calculations are correct after this past weekends cross country flight I now have 133.6 flight hours, 6.5 night hours, 19.4 PIC hours and 3.2 hours of simulated instrument training with all of my required flying done ahead of the written and flight test for the Private Pilot Certificate.  This is good news, of a sort, since it means that the first major phase of flight training is nearing an end.  And with AvGas at nearly $5.90 a gallon it couldn’t happen soon enough.

I now have to do a few more brush up flights to stay frosty, start figuring out my plan of attack on the written test, take one more check-ride with another instructor then it’s off to the final flight test and oral test.  Normally this would make people happy but I am going to take it easy and make sure everything goes smoothly.  It’s been a long road to get to this point and there is no reason to blow it at this last stage.