December 27th, 2005

Merry Christmas



Apparently the insanity of the moment in the states is discussion about what kind of greetings to give around this time of year. Some now seem to think that greetings that were meant to be inclusive of those who don't celebrate Christmas have gone too far and are now considered anti-Christian. Personally I don't give a fig if you wish me Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, Happy Hanukkah, or even something to do with Kwanzaa or Saturnalia. I'll take it as a sincere wish from you that I have a good time, regardless of what faith or traditions I follow.

"And on a personal soapbox, am I missing something? This is supposed to be a season of peace and joy. If you want to say Happy Holidays or Merry Christmas or whatever, then just relax and do it. Fighting about the appropriate greeting just seems to be a little over the top, given the reason for the season to begin with. If you want to get worked up about something, think of all the people in less than pleasant circumstances who are just trying to survive, and figure out how to help them." - John Mauldin in his December 23, 2005 newsletter.

So let's have some Peace On Earth and Good Will to Men and stop worrying about whether some nuance of what we said might be taken the wrong way. (And if someone comments that 'good will to men' is sexist, I'm gonna scream.)

Anyhoo...

Christmas isn't a really big holiday here, but we still have a bit of a celebration. Emily got the most presents of us all. I got a nice Dunhill wallet from Maggie to replace the one she gave me more than six years ago that was starting to get a bit worn. They are a bit pricey but they do seem to last quite a while. The new one is a bit bigger than the old one and seems to fit all my cards and such better than the old one. My sister Sarah gave me a passport cover.

We had a hot pot lunch which is more of a Chinese New Year thing, but I really didn't have the energy to track down a christmas ham what with getting back the day before and all. Anyways, a good time was had, and that's the important thing. Some of Maggie's coworkers came over too, including Jenny's family, so Emily had some kids to play with.

Old laptop refurb

During my September trip my old laptop finally crapped out enough that it was getting too painfully erratic and slow to use. I had poked at various things trying to get it back on its feet but it wasn't enough. I went out to get a new laptop last month, so that mostly solved the problem.

I'm not one to leave a problem like that to remain unresolved though. My old laptop is over four years old, so it's not terribly modern. Still, it was pretty high-end at the time I bought it, so it's not a bad system. P3-1ghz with 512mb memory, 60gb disk, combo drive and 1440x1050 15" LCD. That's still not that bad of a system. And there's also the issue that there was an Unresolved Problem that made me feel Technically Inferior to leave it unfixed.

Previously I had focused on the video card, because one symptom was that drawing of icons or graphics became painfully slow when it was crapping out. However, replacing the video card didn't help any. After finding some benchmarking programs, I found that everything was pretty stable except for CPU and memory transfer benchmarks which were the only tests that slowed significantly when the laptop performance degraded.

When I got back after that trip, I stripped down the whole laptop to its basic components to check everything out. The only problem I didn't know about was that the heat conductive grease between the cpu and heat sink had dried out. I replaced that and put things back together but that hadn't helped. The two other problems were ones I knew about. The first was that the bottom case had cracked in several places and was slowly becoming more unstable, and the cpu fans had been failing for a while.

The first problem was from some unknown rough handling during a previous trip. I'm not sure where exactly it happened but somewhere between when I left CA and next turned on the computer in Taiwan, it had gotten kicked and dropped or something. The wifi PC card got dented and the PC card slots connector to the motherboard had gotten bent, but both of those I was able to repair myself. The case cracking I'd left unfixed because at the time it didn't seem to affect anything. As for the fans, they'd been making a death rattle for quite a while, but it was hard to tell whether their intermittent failures were related to the performance problems.

So as I test, I disassembled the laptop again and set it up caseless on my desk as best I could and ran it that way. It then ran fine. It was hard to tell which problem was responsible as the cpu would be less likely to overheat when running unconfined, and also the disintegrating case wasn't there to short out or wedge against something important.

With that in mind, I went on ebay and found some reasonably cheap sources for both the replacement bottom case and cpu fans for my laptop. I picked them up on my recent trip and just got a chance to replace the old broken ones on my laptop. Et voila, it is fixed. I'm not sure whether I'll use it as another OpenSolaris box to play with or put it downstairs for the family to occasionally use, but whatever, I have now Solved The Problem.

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As for my new laptop, I'm still pretty happy with it after the first big trip with it. I still feel a bit cramped in the 1280x800 resolution, but it's never been a terrible inconvenience. The other problem is that the 4200rpm hard disk is noticeably slow. I am still dithering about upgrading it to a faster one at some point. Performance and size is great, and it's even a bit faster than my current desktop system except on disk activity. And having a built in DVD burner is pretty nice.

DVD+R Double Layer media

Ritek made 2.4X DVD+R DL: 6 burns made on two burners: 1 failed, 2 poor quality, 2 mediocre quality, 1 good quality.

Verbatim/Mitsubishi made 2.4X DVD+R DL: Burns at 8X speed in my main burner, all burns with good to very good quality.

The Verbatim media is kinda weird. It's labeled as 2.4X but has a notice on the box "Approved for High-Speed Burning with compatible 4X/5X ... drives" but my BenQ DW1640 drive supports 2.4X, 4X or 8X burning on them, and resulting quality is still very good even at 8X. So the Verbatims definitely exceeded expectations.

The Riteks on the other hand didn't even meet expectations more than half the time. Frankly I'm feeling pretty stupid for buying any more Ritek products after the 50 pack of 8X DVD+R I bought last spring that had almost 80% failure rate. Never again.

In quantity, Verbatims are going for around $3.40 each while Riteks go for a bit more than $2 each. These prices are getting more reasonable, but still have a way to go before I'll be buying in any quantity, especially when the cheap ones are crap. In any case, if you want to get in on double layer burning, stick with Verbatim or Mitsubishi brands if you don't want to feel stupid.