Monday, July 30, 2007

Some answers (yah, right)

Took some time during lunch to call up BFG and talk to technical support about my computer lockup issue. The person I talked to listened and agreed when I suggested that both power supplies I have tried are good enough to support the card (7800GS). So the next thing to try would be to swap in a similar video card and to try this video card in a similar system. These things are not really possible (I try to have one copy of each generation of computer hardware, not more), so I asked him to speculate. He pointed out that the different answers would be the video card or the motherboard are the root causes.

At this point, I recalled the trouble I had with my ATX power connector when I first got the motherboard. I had trouble inserting the connector - I don't know if it was the motherboard or the connector itself, but something was causing issues. These problems were both mechanical and electrical - it was hard to plug in and sometimes no power flowed. So I think that is the answer. This is not really the answer I wanted as it means spending more money.

The first thing I thought to try is to see if I can find a replacement socket 939 motherboard with AGP. Such a beast does not really exist in the one place I checked (, but it is possible that some place may have a new-but-old board in stock. And I'd be happy to relieve them of it. Otherwise, it means starting over.

Now, that is not necessarily a bad thing - it's been about 3 years and I could do with some minor upgrades. This is a good time to buy - Intel and AMD are in the midst of a price war, so good CPUs are plentiful. Ram is at a reasonable price and all the other parts except power supplies and video cards are nice and cheap. But because I don't have the funds at this time, I can't really go out and drop a bundle on that. Nothing is stopping me from speculating however...

I'd get either an Athlon 64 X2 6000+ (~$240) or an Intel Core 2 Q6600 (~$340). 2GB of RAM is about $120, a good case ~$150, a DVD burner ~$45, a decent HDD ~$120. Biased by these power issues, I'd get the power supply I have wanted for a long time, a PC Power & Cooling. This company was recommended by Jerry Pournelle for many years in Byte magazine. Every current review speaks very highly of their quality parts and design - always the most efficient, stable and very quiet. They were recently bought by OCZ, which basically means that they know are available where I can buy them. So I'd be wanting a beefy PC Power & Cooling Silencer 750. That's about $230, twice a "good" power supply and 2/3 more than an "ok" power supply. Finally, the tradeoff would be on the video card. A decent card can be had for ~$180, but you can spend $250, $400 or $800. If I had to do it right now, i'd get the $180 card because I don't have a spectacular monitor - anything modern will drive it well.

Anyway, for now I have to try and keep the video card underclocked - that seems to help prevent most of the power-related lockups. Not the best thing, but at least there is a workaround. The system is very responsive and stable otherwise, so I think this is a good compromise. I have to find a way to make the settings stick though.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

The puzzlement continues

Didn't spend a whole lot of time on the computer today, except for this evening! I put everything through some excruciating trials - namely CounterStrike: Source. I was able to play for a few hours without any issues. But with a minor issue - I had to under-clock my GPU.

This is what I was doing from the beginning - that is when I had my original 6800GT OC. I had an "overclocked" card, but I had to underclock it to get it to work reliably. So I'm kinda torn - is it the power supply, the video card or something else unknown? Guess time will tell. I'm hoping that the computer store will take back their powersupply. I found that has the Antec Neo HE 500 in stock, which looks like a good choice. It is a modular power supply with two of the output plugs being independent rails. Using that, I can put the hard drive, optical drive and fans on one rail, and the video card on another. With the Enermax Noisetaker II 495 (that's what the model is named), the manual seems to indicate that the second 12 V rail is for the CPU (that 4-pin plug right on the motherboard). That kinda defeats the purpose (for me anyway) of getting a split-rail powersupply.

Anyway, I'll also call BFG and see if they can diagnose what is going on. If they recommend a new powersupply, I'll see if they have a particular one in mind that I should use.

Quick post

So I thought I had everything figured out, but I didn't. Got a new power supply on Friday, an Enermax Noisetaker II 485W. It showed the same issue as before - while playing an intense game of CounterStrike: Source, the machine would hang. And we're not talking "blue screen" hang - hardware hang. Everything is stuck, but at least the fans keep turning.

Anyway, the only way around it is to reset and continue. I'm not sure what I should do now - I guess I will take back the power supply and get a larger one. That seems to be the next logical step. Otherwise, it will mean a complete upgrade. Not as if that is horrible, but it is something I really can't afford at this juncture. Gotta be impressed with Intel's latest price cuts though - they now have a quad-core chip for $266 (US). So it wouldn't be a horrible time to upgrade. But first a new power supply. I got a quote Friday for a 600W beast that would do the trick for sure, so maybe that is what I have to look at. Hopefully I can return this tomorrow (got it at Masters Computer). We'll see.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Further computation updates

As I mentioned here, I still haven't returned my OCZ ram to see if I can get it fixed. However, last Friday I did manage to send off my 2nd, not-properly-functioning BFG 6800GT. Today UPS showed up with the replacement. To my surprise and amazement, it was a BFG 7600 GS! Sweet! This card is a little newer and I was pretty sure that it used a little less power. Now that I have checked the specs more carefully, I think it withstands temperature better, is a smaller length, but has higher power requirements.

Specifically, when I compare the old power requirements with the new, the 6800GT requires a 300W power supply. I started off with a 430W power supply, but upgraded to an Antec TruePower 480 when I first put things together. Should be more than enough. The new card is more specific - 350W with a minimum 12V+ rating of 20 A. Those of you who keep with the vagaries of modern multi-video card systems will realize that this is pretty tamed compared to some Quad-SLI system and the 1100 and 1200W power supplies now available. When I was putting this machine together, the 6xxx series chips from NVidia represented the highest power consumption in video cards - the SLI and Crossfire technologies are only support on PCI-e. Such motherboards were available, but I went the AGP route, but I did buy a video card that required a lot of power. With an Antec 480 W supply, I thought I would be fine as Antec power supplies were part of a test group that reliably matched their number with their real output. What I didn't realize at the time, and has become more essential in the multi-GPU setups is the per-rail output ratings. The only option at the time was to go "bigger", but that just upped the rating for each rail.

So I checked the online ratings from Antec for this power supply. You can see in the "Output" chart that the 12V line had a max rating of 28A, easily handling the requirements. The sticker on my particular power supply notes that the max output is 20A, startlingly close to the minimum requirement for this power supply. Why bring all this up? the machine would do a hard lockup when I hit certain intense gaming situations. Knowing all this, you can understand why I decided to buy a new power supply.

Getting back to power supplies, the vendors have adapted to the higher requirements in multi-GPU systems by adding additional, independent 12V+ rails. This way the graphics card can be given its own rail with a 20A (or higher) rating. A quick check to trusty showed that there are several suitable power supplies with multiple 12V rails available for ~ $100. The Antec NeoHE 500 power supply is a dual-standard EPS12V and ATX 2.0.1 power supply with 3 independent 12 V rails and an efficiency >= 85%.

As an interim solution, I've under-clocked the video card (using the CoolBits registry hack to unlock the NVidia driver). I believe that should keep it away from the brink. Probably this was what allowed my older 6800 GT to work reliably. But now I need to get something to ensure real reliability.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Patio Wars ][, part the first

So there I was, at a party with (mainly) adults, discussing Wittgenstein and sipping blender drinks, like a grown man. And it was good. The conversation was ribald and titillatingly, punctuated with quaffs of chilly delight and Count Chocula. It was Sinclair and Kim's (sorta) annual summer party. It all started back in the 60s, er 90s...

There I was, in university for the first time. Through a weird set of circumstances I met Kim during frosh week. One of my good friends from highschool was in her frosh group and I was hanging out with someone who had known Kim since they were but wee children, frolicking in the barren Scarberian wasteland. Time past and found myself married and living in London (Ontario, Canada) again. My sister and her good friend Janet were telling me about this neat couple they met and how they were both optometrists named Kim and Sinclair. And so I came to realize that Kim and Sinclair had infiltrated my small corner of the Greater Strathroy Area, er, homeland. Place I knew the best.

Eventually, bored with their work-a-day lives, Kim and Sinclair invited me and my wife to a gathering of blenders. Eager to help inject my own special loudness and beverage consumption I readily agreed. And so Patio Wars, with its DJ and patio speakers driven with lamp cord, was invoked.

It was a good night. I almost didn't make it out in one piece, but I managed to struggle my way to the car and my wife drove me home. The fog lifted a few days later, but I was happy in that I made it through most of the night in one piece and, after a few phone calls, that my host was okay as well. All in all a good time. There was mead, but a startling lack of Russian vodka.

Now, being the present day (and I don't mean Christmas), there was a call for a new round of blender drinks in a new location. For Kim and Sinclair had another child and a new abode (and commode - several of those actually) which knew not the joy of warring patios. This time I was determined that there would be no vodka gap. Armed with a bottle of Stolichnya with which to warm the house, we arrived. What a wonderful house - very interesting layout. The back yard dropped steeply off into what was some kind of minor bush-like-substance. Trees and mosquitoes and everything. The patio was ample and made of large squares of what I can only assume must be stone or enormous stale Triscuts (I can't be sure). The floors inside were "covered with such hard wood" (yes it is a Futurama reference - bonus no-prize if you can name the episode, or at least describe it. Triple no-reward points if you can tell me what the initial bank balance was).

And so things began, as most of these things do, with a call for Sinclair to fire up the blender again. Next time, I'll deluge you with yet more details from... PATIO WARS ][!

And there was no philosophy. Really.

Stupid pesticides

So my wife has this thing about wasps. She hates them. Something about her parents deck and perpetual nests, I'm not exactly sure. Frankly it doesn't matter - she doesn't care for them. So when I spotted a growing nest outside our kitchen window, action had to be taken.

Since I was taking a day off work, I headed down to the store. My youngest decided he had to come with me, so packed him in the car and headed to the local Home Hardware. Of course my son fell asleep before the first corner, so I was browsing the wasp "solutions" with 37 lbs of deadweight in one arm. Nothing like a good aerobic workout!

Found Raid Max Wasp & Hornet Bug Killer. Looked like it would do the trick - plus it was on sale! Headed home and re-read the directions, specifically the one that said "wait until evening." Excellent idea! So I waited. Well, had dinner and played CounterStrike: Source until it was after 10pm and then headed out.

The can claimed a 2 to 2.5m foaming distance. So I inserted the straw (applicator wand sounds like some kind of hygiene product) into the nozzle and spray. Foam everywhere - on the wall, on the window, but not really on the nest. Now I have to find the straw in the dark. It did its best foam impression by shooting off the nozzle immediately. Without the straw to focus and accelerate the contents of the can, there would be no 2m reach. Off to get the ladder and start again. Get back to find some dazed wasps crawling on the window ledge, trying to figure out why it was so hard to focus. "Dave's not here man" they said. They looked cold so blanketed them in foam. I think they like it - they went to sleep right away and stopped moving. Then I covered the nest from 0.5m.

Brilliant idea from the directions - I decided to "insert the [straw] into the nest opening and fill it" (still can't call it an applicator or wand). Found the straw and stuck it under the foam. Squeezed the trigger and the straw shot out and nearly hit my eye. Cursing (softly - still don't know the neighbours that well), I headed to the nearest tap to rinse my eye. After rinsing my eye, I read the first aid directions and found out the 2 minutes of rinsing was not nearly enough and that I should spend FIFTEEN MINUTES rinsing. Nuts to that - there's more foam left in the can!

Discovered the extra second round of foam had increased the weight so much that it had fallen off the nest entirely. Foamed up the nest, lightly this time and fetched the hose. I figured that this stuff is so awesome that it would probably turn my wall interesting decorative colours if I left it alone. Rinsed off the wall and window, leaving the nest covered.

So the product was effective - killed about 5 wasps and 1 human. Well nearly - I guess I'm technically not dead. However the foam doesn't seem to be that important. Other products will kill the bugs on contact and work from longer distances, so you can just soak the outside of the nest and kill any that come to investigate directly. I guess it is much the same as CounterStrike - guess they aren't really that different after all. But I can hardly recommend this foam spray stuff. Get something that will actually spray the distance. By "actually" I mean one that doesn't require a straw to be attached before it works as advertised.

I got yer insight right here

I realized something today, standing in a parking lot eating ice-cream. The ice-cream, though delicious cookie dough, has nothing to do with it though. My dad commented on an SUV that parked nearby, saying that he really didn't like those. It was one of those smaller SUVs like a Ford Escape or some-such. I suddenly realized that SUVs are the sports cars for the mini-van set.

Think about it - some people buy minivans for the capacity, but SUVs are more expensive and smaller substitutes. Others (like my dad) buy minivans because they are easy to get in and out of, plus have lots of space. SUVs have the height and easy of entry/exit, but are 'sportier', somehow.

Personally, I've recently decided that if I could afford one, I would get a Lotus Elise. And if someone out there feels like I should have one anyway, I'd be happy to take it off their hands (these guys will sell you one, if you don't have one lying around). Low end torque and good handling are things that I think I really would want, so that's probably as good as it gets handling wise. Plus it can get 29 mpg on the highway, which isn't that bad.

The SUV-to-minivan as Lotus-is-to-Cavalier analogy carries on though. Some SUVs are smaller than others, much like a Lotus is to a Lamborghini. So you have the Grand Caravan to an Escalade or Odyssey to Hummer.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Winning friends and influencing nations

Listened to The Current today on the way to work, as I often do. Listen that is. And work too - I guess I do both pretty often.

Anyway, the topic I caught was about the plight of civilian contractors in Iraq, working as interpreters etc. First there was an interview with someone who was an interpreter and had to flee Iraq because of threats on her life. Not that they weren't common but that they became more direct - mentioning her by name. She was trying to emigrate to the US after helping them in her native country, but it was a long process. The second part was an interview with Kirk Johnson who has setup something called "The List: Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies".

Mr. Johnson had done some aid work in Iraq and saw how hard it was for the people who were helping the US to try and rebuild their country. These were the people who volunteered because they felt the US was improving things. These same people are targets for others who don't want the US there, so some are killed and all are threatened. When they feared for their lives so much they wanted to leave their birthplace, the US told them "there is nothing we can do".

Mr. Johnson setup the "List" because the treatment of these volunteers will form the future reputation of the US in the middle east. These are the people that like the US the most and if they don't get helped - if they feel used and abandoned - no one will ever want to help the US again. Currently there is no give and take. Sure they may be paid well, but these people aren't mercenaries, risking their lives for money. They are working to make where they live a better place. If the US wants win more friends, they can start by being a friend to their helpers who are being threatened with death.

The first interviewee mentioned that when the Danes find out that one of their interpreters is in danger, they get them to Copenhagen within 24 hours. The Americans direct their helpers to leave Iraq illegally and then go through a series of interviews over the course of 18 months (or more) and maybe they'll permit them to attempt to emigrate. Wow - what courtesy. What gratitude. Maybe they'll get a handful of peanuts for the trip too.

The slowness of the process is attributed to Homeland Security, who apparently want to be careful they don't give easy access to potential terrorists. Mr. Johnson pointed out that all the interpreters have to pass a security clearance, work and eat with Americans on bases and in the green zone. Some even carry sidearms (that's a fancy word for "gun") while traveling in convoys. Plus they risk their lives just going to work. Moving to the US means they have to leave their birthplace under threats of death, leaving extended families and everything they have known. I guess they're still a threat...

I was talking with my neighbour tonight about a problem in their house. The builder was reluctant to change anything, but when asked "If this was your house, would you leave it like this?", the builder answered "No". If someone who lives half a world away, doesn't know you, isn't related to you risks their life on your behalf, does that prove their mettle? Sounds like a soldier to me, except these people aren't being paid to risk their lives. I think that should carry some weight when deciding how to treat them.

This is not a call to abandon process, but maybe the process could be done from within the US. Maybe a little quicker. According to Mr. Johnson there are many citizens who would vouch for these people.

Well, the ranting has sent me off course a bit, but the key thing is that people are watching how this is handled. If all you see is a rich country, coming in and looking after itself, will you like or dislike that country? Coming in and using the local resources, human or otherwise, and dropping them when they aren't useful isn't neighbourly. It's provocative. The people that help are the ones that have the strongest positive opinion of the US - using them up and leaving them to pay with their lives for helping the US is not going to encourage strong support of US anything. They need to show these people respect so they can earn respect. Hopefully it will be recognized before the dividing lines are too clear.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Up and about

Gee, wake up early on a Saturday and can't find a blog anywhere. Well, I cast the net rather poorly, but I'm still going to take it as a sign that I need to add to the pool rather than take from the pool.

Wow - that was a bit short. Hopefully I can finish what I intended before it propagates. I had promised to provide more details about my "raised patio" so here goes.

Anyway, I picked up my building permit yesterday. The municipality graciously cashed my $150.00 fee and will let me build my deck. Or "raised patio" as I have been referring to it. Just so there is some context, the municipality of Thames Centre (where I live - aka Dorchester) uses a rate of $0.42/square foot, with a minimum of $150 (see here for details). As a contrast, the City of London, ON, CA has a minimum charge of $90 (see the section "Submitting your Application"). Most people wouldn't bother with a permit to build a deck, and in some ways that is less hassle. Problem is, if something goes wrong later the issue will get escalated. With the permit you get the satisfaction of paying the municipality money to come and watch you work.

In this case, I need to arrange for 4 inspections. I've spoken with the building inspector and he had some key areas to make sure things were done a certain way. In particular, making sure that structure is properly tied to the foundation wall was the biggest one, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Instead of wood deck, we decided to create a precast concrete and masonry structure. By "we" I meant me, my wife (who was not keen on wood) and my dad, the mason. He's been working with creating his own precast pieces, redoing the front patio of their cottage with balusters and capped with long precast cap to replace the railings. The result was excellent and led to the idea for this structure.

The lower part of the structure will be masonry walls sitting on a poured concrete foundation. The walls will be split-faced concrete blocks and form the perimeter of the deck. The deck itself will be precast slabs that are about 3 feet long, 18" wide. The railing will be the same baluster design my dad used at his cottage. So with all that concrete we needed to get a permit in case someone wondered what we were doing back there. I don't think anyone would question a simple wood deck - so many people assemble them on successive weekends the question of "permit" never really comes up. This is different so it is best to be conservative.

Anyway, I'll have some more details in upcoming days, possibly with pictures. I need to record all the digging I'm going to have to do over the next little while...

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

My Terrestrial Transport Module

I like my car. The car I drive to and from work. It is my own insular space with my music. It is comfy and it handles well. It jumps nicely from the line but has good fuel economy. Some may call it a bit of a fad car, but I do have a Y2K Bug. I bought it because my son was still living the womblife and hoped to some day explain what Y2K was all about so he too will get the hilarity of the Y2K bug.

Seriously - I bought a New Beetle TDI on Oct 21, 1999 but it was a 2000 model year. It has a wonderful diesel engine and I have always liked driving it. I probably paid too much for it at a time when I shouldn't have bought a new car. That mistake still has repercussions today, but I still like my car. So I wasn't too pleased when I was informed a few days back that my exhaust was "dangling".

"What, like hanging? "
"Yah - saw it bouncing around while you were driving."
"You should probably get that fixed before it falls off."

Sounds like a poorly scripted pharmaceutical commercial. Waving in the breeze. Hanging free and easy. Bustin loose. I mean really. REALLY!?! I was shocked. Shocked! SHOCKED!! Okay, not that shocked (that's the second Futurama joke I just stole, so pay attention). Kind of hard to watch what your muffler does as your driving. I guess I'd need a system of mirrors and minor body work and it could be done, but not by me. Not now anyway.

So, on a lark, I called the dealership where I regularly get my car serviced. I wondered if the extensive work ($2500 worth!) completed last November had anything to do with the problem. That work involved removing the rear axle and replacing a vexing bushing that supports the entire rear suspension. Sounds like a candidate for trouble, don't it? Given the fact that the techs forgot to reattach a plastic cover over the rear axle properly, I didn't find leaving out some exhaust hangers out of the realm of possibility.

Phone call made it through to service and I got the man I was looking for - Geoff. He's the reason I keep coming back to the dealership. He told me to bring it right on in. Geoff stopped working there for awhile and I looked at other garages, but abandoned that when he came back. I've found his explanations the right mix of detail and summary and he has tried hard to get a good deal for me whenever possible. Dealerships have a particular process when fixing cars, which makes my life more expensive, but Geoff helps me navigate. Dealerships make more money off the servicing of vehicles than selling them, especially in recent years. Sale prices are low to keep everything moving, but the service lasts a long time and keeps you looking at newer versions of the same thing. Everything in a dealership garage is generally "fine" or "needs to be replaced". This binary coarseness is where the money disappears.

Here's an excellent example of what a "mechanic" at a dealership does, that happens to be apropos to this tale. One day, I started my car and thought something was different. A few seconds later I identified the issue - a huge increase in the noise the car was making. Got it into the dealership within about a day and immediately the problem was obvious - there was a crack in the exhaust. Now VW uses a two-piece exhaust, with the piece from the manifold down to the catalytic converter being ending in a sleeve. The piece from the middle to the muffler is the other piece. One piece fits inside the other and is clamped shut, providing strength and there are no welds to cut through when replacing the muffler. However the aforementioned crack was just forward of the sleeve, putting it in the "catalytic converter" section. Standard dealership procedure is to replace the "defective part". This part would have cost < $1200, plus labour. Did I mention that this was a diesel Beetle? That means the engine is inserted with Vaseline and a shoehorn, if everything goes well. I think there would have been at least an hour of labour added to that total. So Geoff comes out, explains this to me and says "Look, just bring this to the Mufflerman and they'll weld that piece shut for like $20. It'll hold indefinitely - the exhaust shouldn't have broken there anyway." I took his advice and it cost more than $20 (1/2 of labour) but it was a lot less and it was the correct repair for the problem.

So how is this apropos? (Without spell checking, you would've been treated to "a pres paux" or "apres paut"). Turns out the clamp-in-the-middle system makes the whole thing pretty strong, but there is also a hanger by the muffler to keep things from swaying in the breeze. So I bring in my transport module in a lovely oxidized J was identified as the U-shaped bracket that should be holding the goodies, er muffler, in place. Replace bracket (which involves a small weld), weld the bracket in the middle which had flexed and moved out of place and voila! Two french phrases in one post! Or a nice non-bouncing muffler.

While I was waiting for the work to be done, I chatted up someone from sales. I had heard (from my buddy Geoff in service) that VW was going to be reintroducing a new emission-approved diesel system for the 2008 model year. And within a few years there was going to be a sweet diesel Rabbit for sale - right in my price range. Stuart (I hope I spelled his name correctly) confirmed that, 2008 would see a couple of models with the diesel option. Nothing for sure, but there would be a diesel Rabbit in the 2010 or 2011 model year. In other words, some time for me to start saving up for something new. Stuart and I chatted about my current vehicle. He indicated that they can't keep Beetles on the lot, which is good to hear. Also, all current VW models have 4-wheel disc brakes, something I've always liked.

Stuart was curious about the fuel economy. In recent times (the last 3 years or so), my fuel usage was between 5 L/100Km to 7L/100Km, driving however I want to. And I likes the torque, if you know what I mean. The diesel Beetle is still one of the most fuel-efficient cars out there, even when the EPA changed its measurement protocol. There still isn't a hybrid that can compete, mainly because most are used to justify larger vehicles. I really don't want a vehicle that doesn't have a real economy closer to 5L/100Km than 9L/100Km. The latter is what alot of so called "efficient" cars use. For now, I fill up once every two weeks, driving 1 hour every work day (there and back). Hopefully this repair will make the ride a little more smooth and improve fuel economy a little more. And keep this car going strong.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Some kind of blogger-ful

My well meaning idea of trying to blog everyday is has not lived up to its description. I'm still going to use that description because something like "do some writing every time you feel like it - at least 4 times a week, but try and spread them out a little" is hard to communicate. Today contains many little nuggets, so it should be easy.

First thing was a little sport - but I've already detailed that outing in verbose fashion. The current work project I've been toiling at hasn't really had a clearly defined end-point. Until today that is - I want to take some time off in August to work on my "raised patio" (yes that is what I am calling it). Mid-August is the target, which I'm taking to be the 2nd and 3rd weeks in August. That is fine as long as I can wrap up said project by then. So I have a goal and a deadline.

Still haven't returned my RMA'd video card and it's starting to bother my CS:S performance. I guess I got used to the excellent visuals my 6800GT produced and the Ti4200GT is just not cutting it. Well, that should be done soon - in the next few days.

Also got hooked up with Rogers Hi-Speed express yesterday, but ran into a snag right off the bat. The ethernet wiring in my home - installed be me and a good friend of mine - is not done. It's in the walls, but there aren't really any connectors or wall plates and there is no plug-panel or terminator in the basement. Plus all the wires are hanging down and in the way in the basement. Not a big deal because no one is down there much, but my DSL modem (and now my cable modem) are down there. And there is one cable hooked up. We added a connector to the end of one cable and added one wall plate so that the computer room would have a connection to the (appropriate) modem. The connector on the end of this cable seems to be a bit sensitive, so when I plugged it into the cable modem, no signal was getting though. So I have to look into that and possible change the connector. I don't want to finish the plug panel because I can't really afford it. It's going to cost ~$200 for the panel and plates. Then I'd need a rack or something to attach it to. Using the backing for they hydro breakers is a non-starter as it isn't big enough. And probably not a good idea to run Cat6 near such a large electrical field. I do have a line on some nice standard, full-size racks that will become available eventually. I'd like to wait until then as they would be much nicer than anything I could afford to by new.

I'd also like to send anyone who may stumble upon this to Five Years, Five Lakes, Two bicycles! This is the online journal a coworker is maintaining as he travels by bicycle around Lake Superior. Something he pointed out to me is that not only is he biking around the lake, but he biked to the start from home and from the finish to home. So it's a pretty big undertaking. He's a fair ways along, as he started in Michigan and is now on the western side of the lake! Also check out this Google mashup to track where he's been. Quite the adventure - something I'm interested in doing, but really cannot at this point. Hard enough dealing with time off properly, let alone telling my wife "oh I took 2 weeks off and I'll see you 2 weeks. Bye!!!" I think my kids wouldn't be all that pleased either... Maybe they'd be okay with it as I wouldn't be hogging the computer. Ahh the sweet tradeoffs that make life the chewy chocolate biscuit it is. Or something.

Hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey, hockey all the time!

Started off this Tuesday with a fine round of hockey. Nothing like playing hockey, especially in the middle of the summer! Since I started up again a few years ago I recalled how much I like being in the arena and the chill before you get warmed up, the fun of playing on a smooth surface. Playing in the summer is all that, but its freakishly warm outside! Always fun to walk into a room that has it's own fog bank. Memorable moments today - stopped a puck on the goal line (playing defense) and setup then scored in a pretty play that began behind the net in the offensive zone. Shot the puck to the half-boards and immediately circled back to the front of the net. No one to pick me up, the person on the half boards sent the puck right through the middle and the 5 hole opened up nicely. One of the few one-timers that I have connected solidly on. Also made a few good plays along the boards in the defensive end digging the puck out. Also memorable was the spear I delivered to myself. Chasing the puck around the offensive net, my blade caught the mesh and stick went right at my stomach. Threw the net off the moorings and left me shocked that I didn't have a stick through my middle. I got better though. I was surprised at the immediate after-effects - almost seeing stars and I wasn't 100% for about 2 minutes. I was okay for the rest of the game though.

Today was one of those days were one team seemed to have a spontaneous organization to it - probably because all the players had some organized play experience. That team happened to be my team (or the "blue pinnie" team). Teams are chosen by throwing sticks (make a big pile, grab two and throw one to the left and one to the right). Adjustments are made so that all the good players aren't on one team, but the system doesn't produce perfect balance.

The blue team started off with well-positioned defense and balanced offense. On the attack, we usually carried the puck in (or dumped it in a few times) and had at least two people there. That provides some nice options and can often turn into a 2-on-1 situation. Defensively, there was always a man back - I don't think there was more than 1 breakaway for the other team. The other team didn't stick to even vague positions for very long, leading to several breakaways and the odd-man rushes. It's hard to describe exactly what the difference is, but I can tell when I'm on that team. If I'm on the bench watching I can tell when a team reaches this cohesive play state, but not while I'm on the ice.

Actually that's not entirely true. I can tell if I pay attention to my own reactions to the other team. If they are well-positioned, I'm more easily frustrated in my attempts to clear the puck, so that's usually a good sign.

Anyway, it was a good game today. Four on four with a sub on each side. Twelve skaters would be better (then it's 5-v-5 with 1 sub each) but it is the summer. I don't know why it is so difficult to get people out during the summer. I mean I understand that more people are on vacation but there is a weird drop-off where people who are not on vacation don't show up either. Personally I being at work all the time means that it isn't an issue to show up - I'm around anyway. At most I'll have a couple of weeks off, but I can't afford distant vacations so I usually work in some games then anyway. Another problem for our group is the people who were former regulars that aren't showing up (like Ed and Peter and claude). I mean just because Claude's wife had a baby doesn't mean you miss hockey! Sheesh! Ed probably has some work-related stuff that's "holding him back" - fiduciary responsibilities my butt! Peter needs to make our partners and 3rd party vendors understand that hockey is more important. Fortunately, I've heard rumor that some may actually return to the ice and wield the stick again.

I am still pretty darn happy that I have found a place to play hockey again. And in the summer. It's all good.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Computational update

I'm not doing too spectacularly in the "blog every day" department, but I thought I'd write up something about my computer. I haven't done anything about my video card, even though I have an RMA number for it. Maybe I'll call them back today and point out that I haven't gotten a mailing label, just the same RMA form as before. This form says that in the US, use the BFG Tech corporate UPS account to get things sent back, (you just have to supply the packed box). This does not apply to Canada, so if I don't get a pre-paid mailer or promise of financial compensation, I'm not sure what is up.

Other than that, things seem pretty good with the ol' machine. I've had some Win32 services die on startup, but no blue-screens. The same old punishment continues, so I guess things are okay.

In the punishment department, I've loaded up the "Insurgency" Mod for Half-life2. It's basically Battlefield 2 on the Source engine. So far, pretty good, despite the beta status. I'll be much happier when I get the better video card as this mod is very "realistic". That means no maps and no coloured tags over the players. You have to recognize that the little blur down there is a friend or foe on your own. The worst bugs I've found are in the squad system - there is no canceling and there is no easy way to switch types if the squad is full. However I've just randomly hit a number and been given the class even though the slot is full. There are too many specialist slots (rpg, sapper on insurgents) and not enough simple rifleman.

Anyway, that's the update for now. Still haven't brought back my old RAM for warranty stuff, but there is still time.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Moderate success!

I have complained, to all who would listen, about my computer troubles over the last few months. It has been most annoying and interfered with my gaming, er blogging. So I thought I'd take some time to describe what has been going on.

A few years back, I invested in a new system. Althon 3500+, MSI K8N Neo2 Platinum (Nforce3 250 Ultra chipset), OCZ PC3500EL (2x512 MB match pair), 250 GB Seagate HD (7200.8 SATA interface), DVD+/-R CD-RW/R, Antec Sonata case, Antec TruePower 480 PS, BFG 6800GT OC. At the time, pretty cutting edge without breaking the bank. In recent months, instability has crept in. At first, I thought it was something with the North Bridge - specifically the fan on it. The AGP slot goes right over the fan and 6800 GT is known for its prodigious heat production. This suspicion was later confirmed when the fan started making noise. Being lazy, I just let it be with blue-screens and lock-ups happening frequently.

Then the video card failed. Streaks of random colour appeared across the display. I must take action - no one can use the computer like this! I called BFG, who have a life-time warranty on their products. They determined, over the phone, that the RAM on the video card had an issue and I would have to send it back. They gave me an RMA number and I sent it back. They have excellent tech support, when you can get through, btw. Concurrently, I ordered a new heatsink/fan combo for my north bridge and some fresh thermal grease. Then I pulled my MSI Ti4200GT from my old machine to continue hobbling along. One can't be entirely without the Inter-weeb, don cha ya know.

The new parts and the replacement card arrived a week or so later. I order a Vantec VGA/chipset kit. The heatsink/fan combo was intended for older video cards to replace a passive heatsink with a copper-based one and integrated fan. My motherboard used the same fan/heatsink layout so this would be a drop-in replacement. Unfortuneately, I had to remove my motherboard to pop the retention pins out from underneath. The first thing I noticed was that the original heatsink/fan was so light - barely any metal at all! That and the reason the fan wasn't working was because the intake fins were clogged with dust. Ugh. The replacement heatsink/fan was copper and had some heft to it so I just made a mental note to clean that out every month or so. Replaced the motherboard, swapped in my cooling tower heatsink (a Thermaltake Silent Tower) and the replacement 6800GT. Everything fired up nicely, much much cooler than before, but the machine locked up hard when XP was started. Eventually tracked it down to the replacement card - it worked fine in VGA mode (during boot, in Windows XP Safe Mode) but as soon as the drivers tried to initialize it, the entire machine locked up hard. I swapped in the old Ti4200GT and away we went. The random lockups are done!

But they weren't or course. The problems that I attributed to heat weren't really the cause of all the problems. I finally fired up UBCD (Universal Boot CD) with memtest86+ and quickly discovered that one of the OCZ modules was producing constant errors. I swapped the locations to see if it was a motherboard issue, but the problem moved to the other bank. So off I went to get some replacement memory. I was tempted to get more RAM - move to 2 GB from 1 GB, but money reality really was suggesting that I should do a simple replacement. The best local price I saw was about $39 for a single 512MB stick, and I intended to buy two to fully replace what I had. I ended up going to KoolComputers (Wharncliffe store) and was surprised when the store clerk dug up some OCZ modules! I said that I had a matched pair of OCZ that developed a prolem and she indicated that they deal with OCZ all the time. If I wanted to use the lifetime warranty on the OCZ modules they would be able to do it on my behalf. Sounded good, but I needed something now. The replacement modules were slightly lower spec (PC3200 vs PC3500) but they had the nice heatspreaders and were $49 each! Awesome. Went home and ran them through memtestx86+ again, with no errors. So it has been half a day and so far the reliability has been high. I'm hoping that's the source of the reliability issues. Next up, performance!

That leads right back to the 6800 GT. I had spent 28 minutes on hold with BFG waiting for an operator. Especially infuriating was the point 5 minutes in when the system informed me that it would be about 3 minutes until the next call. After waiting an additional 20, I hung up and called back. That time the voice said 16 minutes. Since I didn't want to wait until next week, I left to go get my replacement RAM. I called back on return and got through immediately. The tech listened to my description of the problem and said that I'd need to send it back. That was okay - I expected that. What I didn't expect was the "Since the card we sent you was defective, we'll send you a label so you don't have to pay to send it back." Awesome again! The call was done in 11 minutes, punctuated with several minutes silence while the tech consulted various things. I look forward to the next round with the video card.

This brings me to my experiences with BFG Tech support. I have been the guy answering the phone before and I've called other tech support lines, although very rarely. The BFG support line has been the best I've experienced, for one main reason - they listen to what you say first and then figure out the next step. When they ask what the problem is, I summarize the problem and describe what I did to fix it. This is usually enough for the tech to determine that I've done all the simple things (reboot, try new drivers, tighten connections etc etc) and more complex things (replace card with a known good card and what happens). This last call and the call where I sent back my original card were excellent examples. They listened and when I was done, the first words were "well, sounds like you have a defective card, we'll set you up with an RMA." I was so pleased that I wasn't told "so let's try using the latest drivers" or some-such.

Anyway, all you people (okay, the one guy who reads my blog on occasion) have been treated to an extra long edition. I will try for the "more often, less long" philosophy in the future, but I've been starved of writing entries of late.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Progress of a sort

Here it is, another post and another large gap. I guess it is hard to write a blog with the computer off and passed out in bed. Then again, sleep is good. Probably should be asleep right now, but I did want to make more of this habitual posting idea. Can't come up with good stuff if you don't write at all. Practice makes perfect and ya gotta play to win. Can't score if you don't shoot. Etcetera.

Pretty nice evening - the kids were away and so we got some take-out: Ben Thahn. Good food. Even better "Vietnamese Avocado Espresso Smoothie". Just ask for number 26 and don't worry about why there is blended avocado in your drink. It just works. It also means that I probably ate a little too much and so I'm loath to attempt sleep until digestion has progressed a little. And then I'll write a blog entry to remind myself that they have very filling food and not to gorge.

Anyway, I just need to remember that a little every day is a good thing. Habits take awhile to form and this one is most stubbornly resistant. On one hand creativity is not something you can force, but if you don't do, it won't happen at all. As I was commenting above. And I will move ahead - because that's what we all do. Just keep swimming...

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


So much for the fabulous discipline. I guess it is day 3 and this is the third post, but that isn't really what I was going on about. Monday was pretty good, although I talked to three different people that ran into the same "some grocery store has to be open today" issue I did. The one closest to home was open 9-5 Sunday, but closed Monday. Shoulda been checking that out Sunday and then the fridge wouldn't be looking so sparse now...

Went to a nice holiday BBQ, sans family. It's nice to be able to take off on occasion, but I guess it is a sign of maturity that I kinda wanted them to be there too. The kids would have been a handful, but it would have been alright. The swimming pool was the most fun and the most tiring. Interestingly the pool deck cut my fingertips pretty darn good. Guess that sandpaper-like coating combined with the water and hauling my flabby self outta the water conspired to remove my fingerprints. Pretty ingenious. Kudos all round for an excellent day.

Company picnic coming up tomorrow. That should be a good time - they've all been pretty darn good so far. The weather prestidigitators are calling for rain about that time, but this summers' version of rain has been quite sparse to say the least. Previous picnics have all been hot dry affairs, excellent for hanging about out-of-doors, if there is a spot of shade to be had. Rain will be a change and I can't say that my lawn won't be appreciative. There shall be shelter for all during possible precipitation. I think the progeny will be upset if we can't get a round of mini-golf in. They do get so excited to wield clubs...

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Paint splatters

I kinda mentioned, in this post, about how I was engaging in my first truly personal home improvement project. Not like I haven't done stuff around the house before, but it hasn't really been my house before and I haven't done it all myself before, so it's been an important first. Hard to imaging, old as I am getting, that this is a first. Guess the opportunity hasn't really been there before, what with the renting and all. Doesn't really make sense to remodel someone else's place...

Anyway I can pretty much call the project done. Well, not exactly finished yet, what with the touch-ups and such, but pretty much done. The walls and ceiling are painted and look pretty good. The walls are a dark grey-blue colour and the ceiling white so some touch ups will be required. Finally broke down and used some masking tape when finishing the door frame (door into the house). I painted it white to match the side door leading out of the garage and really didn't want that splatter over the relatively dark wall. Plus cutting the side of the door frame is awkward.

So, what have I learned... First the ceiling hatch into the garage-attic needs to have some handles on it. Would be easier (read: safer) to handle if you didn't have to jam your hand around an edge to maneuver it. Second that primer is a beautiful thing, especially over drywall. The walls required 2 gallons (3.78*2 = 7.56 litres) of primer. That meant the 2 gallons of paint gave me two coats. Looks so much better with two coats, even though I used the cheap "contractor grade" paint. It's a garage after all, where my cars live, and I think they can live with cheap paint. They're going to spend most of their time in the dark so the sparkling warm depth of premium paint would be lost on them. Philistines.

Well, this will lead to the next great solo project for me - building a table/tool area for the garage. That may not be so solo as I'm going to hit up people for extra wood. If they've got some, I'll use what I can get my hands on. They may even help me cut it. The non-solo project will be the "raised patio" as I'm going to call it. Not a deck, but something made of masonry and precast concrete that will be where a deck would be. More on that some other time.

Mmmm... Philosphical...

Got a lovely, unintentionally back-handed, but starkly accurate, comment the other day. Someone (I don't need to tell you it was Kimota94) labeled me an "infrequent blogger". I cannot disagree - the facts speak for themselves. The facts being that after an initial flurry of posts, I haven't really done much posting. It's true and I find it sad. So I have to start somewhere and I'm going to start here to change this trend.

One of the reasons I wanted to start a blog at all was to share my thoughts and to keep up with the ole writing habit. Back in the day, (grade 7), we were given writing assignments and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I added my own material because I wasn't done by the time I finished and so I still feel. Except now I'm not really given any assignments and the result is that I end up ranting to various people at various times on various subjects. Not always the best thing. Plus writing has its own satisfactions. My poor penmanship meant that I was encouraged to learn how to type when I was pretty young. The act of writing at the keyboard has been the one that I remember and so this whole online experience fits with that pleasant activity.

I really felt like "infrequent" was mocking me. It's not like I have little to say. I'm seriously, does anyone think that? Really? Haven't really read anything I've written or engaged in verbal sparing, er, conversation with me then, huh. So I am going to make a new effort - bring back some more discipline into my life, and have at this blogging thing. Regularity, habit, habigularity (?) will spur me to greater heights. Or more posts. Something anyway.