Saturday, December 1, 2012

Laptop Hardware Troubles

It's been about two years since I purchased my current personal laptop, so it's time for some mechanical and power problems.  The disk started making clicking sounds and "{ DriveReady SeekComplete Error }" started showing up in dmesg.  These days I take no chances and immediately replace the disk before I lose data.  At the same time, the battery is unable to hold a charge for more than a few seconds.  I expect these to fail, I just wasn't expecting it to be the same day.  Oh well.

For the disk replacement, I bought a 256GB SSD (this one).  My previous work laptop came with a 64GB SSD that I thought was pretty cool, but I wasn't really impressed.  It may have been because the capacity was so low that I ended up relying on an external USB hard disk for most of my work.  256GB is large enough to be useful.  Plus I really like the idea of no moving parts.  The big problem was that the failing disk was 750GB.  Had to do some housekeeping first to get everything to fit in 256GB.  To my surprise I wasn't really using a lot of that 750GB anyway.

The disk arrived on Friday and only took me a couple of hours to copy everything from the old disk to the new one.  I plugged both disks in to my workstation at the office, created new partitions and filesystems, mounted the old partitions under /old, mounted the new partitions under /new, and used tar to copy the contents of each volume to the new disk.  Manual edit of /etc/fstab on the new disk and install grub and I was good to go.

First boot up in the laptop and I can tell right away this thing is fast.  Things load quickly.  It's really nice.  Taking advice from a few online searches, I am doing the following:

  • Use tmpfs for the /tmp partition.  Should have done this a long time ago anyway.
  • Add the 'discard' mount option for the ext4 and swap partitions.  Everyone says to do this in order to get TRIM support.
  • Use the noop I/O scheduler rather than cfq.  There is no need to reorder I/O operations so the disk doesn't have to seek so much.  There's no disk!

If you know of any other tips for using an SSD on Linux, let me know.  I'm running the 3.2.34 kernel.  Yes, I know there are newer ones, I just haven't bothered to upgrade to a new 3.y line yet.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Thanksgiving is approaching and Karen and I will be visiting my parents and my sister and her husband this year. Our original plan was to drive because we are so very tired of flying. But I had some major knee mishaps this week and am now taking meds and walking with a cane so that's sort of not the best idea. Still, we don't want to fly so we ended up buying tickets for the train.

We will be taking the Northeast Regional to New York and then boarding the Crescent for the rest of the trip. This is the first long trip that both of us will be doing by train.

Getting information about what it's like to ride Amtrak has been both easy and difficult. The Amtrak web site is reasonable, but if you want actual passenger accounts you need to search around. I came across a video on YouTube of someone just walking through the train showing you what it's like to travel by train if you are most familiar with air travel. That was nice, but don't expect a lot of videos like that on YouTube. The vast majority of Amtrak videos on YouTube are by railfans, which are completely useless to people wanting information about what it's like to travel by train.

A short 21 hours later and we'll be at our destination. I imagine I'll have more or a followup posts and some pictures.

Monday, November 12, 2012

I-278 & I-287 Next To Each Other. Perfect!

Karen and I went to Manhattan over the weekend to visit Chris & Ryoko (Karen's brother and his wife) and their new little one. Our options to get there from Boston are numerous and while we like taking the train (awesome) or bus (slightly less awesome), we decided to drive.

The drivers on the Mass Pike and almost all the way through Connecticut were nuts on Saturday. We couldn't completely remember what to do after CT-15, so we just kept going in the general direction of southwest which we assumed would put us somewhere in the city.

BTW, the jack ass who decided it would be a good idea to put Interstates 287 and 278 next to each other, F you. Would it have been so hard to pick something other than '2' for the leading number on one of those bypass roads.

For future reference, Mass Pike west, I-84 towards Hartford, get on CT-15 as soon as possible (Berlin Turnpike if possible), take that until you get to the land of I-95, follow that until you see signs for I-278. Follow 278 in to the city and follow signs leading you to the Triborough RFK Bridge. Pay $6.50 to cross the bridge, take the FDR South, turn right at appropriate street. Done. Return trip directions courtesy of Haynes automotive manuals.

Parking for the weekend was $101. Taking Acela next time.

Friday, November 9, 2012

New Eyeglasses

In order to try to keep myself in the habit of making regular posts again, I'm even going to include the boring stuff.

So it's been a little over two years since my last eye exam and I was noticing that I've been squinting a lot. Having been an eyeglass wearer since I was in the 2nd grade, that usually means it's time to have a new eye exam.

And since my last exam was in Honolulu, it was time to find a new doctor of optometry.  Google points me to Brattle Square Optical. Sounds reasonable, so I make an appointment.

My appointment was on election day. After voting, I headed to Harvard Square to find this place. I realize it's the eye place I walk past whenever I'm headed in to Harvard Square. Just never remembered the name.

The first thing is the usual paperwork for a new patient. They start by having me look at new frames. They even help me. I really like this because I hate picking out frames. Also, the fact that they are having me do this before the eye exam makes so much sense. I've asked to do that at LensCrafters before and they really don't want to change their order of operations.

Frames selected, next up is the insurance check. No problems whatsoever. Again, my experience with LensCrafters in the past was met with all kinds of problems trying to use a VSP plan. Not at this place. They are finishing setting up the order and I go in for the eye exam.

I meet the doctor and he is very friendly and asks about my vision history and other sorts of stuff. We do the usual "number 1 or number 2" stuff and the eye chart, but I notice he does more during the exam. He also does a peripheral vision test to finish things out. The whole time he's explaining what's going on and making you feel comfortable.

The end result was a prescription and new glasses ordered. They arrive next Friday. Looking forward to frames that fit my head.

Brattle Square Optical: Recommended

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Activity Elsewhere

Like many people, I have stopped regularly posting to my blog. Maybe I'll get back to doing that. How about a summary since my last post.

We made it through the summer. A lot of travel, events, and other things. We are now in autumn, but I'm personally looking forward to winter.

I moved from Site5 to Dreamhost because Site5 just really started to irritate me. I was disappointed because I had been with them for 7 years or so. Dreamhost is cheaper and offers something more along the lines of what I want. I'm still going back and forth on this, but I'm thinking about setting up my own server again. But I really like not having to deal with that.

Aside from that, it's business as usual. What I really need to do is come up with something to talk about weekly and post an entry about it. I usually do that on my own, I just stopped taking it to the blog.

Next week, I promise.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Yaesu, SGI, and the Indy 500...index that, Google.

Blogger has a new interface and I'm not sure how much I like it. It's been the obligatory long amount of time between posts, so here's a new one.

This week I purchased a Yaesu FT-817ND portable HF radio. What's that? It's a battery powered amateur radio that works on the world bands. I've wanted for a while and it didn't make sense to me to buy one in Hawaii because the radio is limited to 5 watts of output power. It takes significantly more than that on an average day to reach past Hawaii if you live there. I've got the radio on my desk here and have been playing around with different bands trying to get used to its interface. So far I like it. The radio is designed for portable use. So much so they call it the backpacker radio. For me, I'll probably carry it on to the back porch, to parks, and on trips.

In computer news, I purchased an SGI O2 on eBay. I feel mentioning it on a blog is fitting given the age of the system and the decrease in blog popularity. Maybe I'll turn this blog in to stories about using the O2. I had an O2 about 12 years ago and over time a number of other SGI systems (several Indy workstations, an Octane, a Crimson, others). That was the phase where I was interested in learning about other computing platforms. I always found SGI systems nice and fun. IRIX may leave a bit to be desired, but it does work. The system I have has the 200Mhz variety of the R5000 MIPS processor. It does have 1MB of secondary cache, which seems to help quite a bit. The O2 that I had 12 years ago was a 180Mhz R5000 and it had no secondary cache (I think, maybe 512K) and it was significantly slower than the one I have now. I have 256M of memory and a 36G disk. Also the A/V board, O2 camera, and a very well maintained case. The system requires a PS/2 keyboard to boot, though you can disable that requirement after setting up the system. Since I want to use it as a workstation, I needed a PS/2 keyboard. A USB to PS/2 adapter will not work here and the O2 will appear to hang on boot. Fear not, the system is just expecting a real PS/2 keyboard. eBay to the rescue again. I was able to buy an unused SGI keyboard (same model that shipped with the O2 systems originally) for $15, only it is a German layout model. No problem, I can touch type.

Lastly, at the end of this month I will be taking my parents to the Indianapolis 500. My dad has never been and has always wanted to go. We have tickets and are going to brave the sun for our chance to see cars going really fast. Taking my fast lenses along with industrial grade ear plugs and sunscreen. Pictures after the trip.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Is Here

While living in Honolulu, I frequently mentioned that seasons were one thing I missed about New England. Just this week we ended winter and started spring. Now it was a rather weak winter, but the season changeover is still noticeable. To me, the plants seem to have life to them now. And that tree in front of our house is dropping things on the car again and I thought to myself, "oh right, I remember this from last year."

The temperature outside has been great this week. is saying it will rain this weekend, but I'm hoping today stays nice.

Spring also has that idea of spring cleaning. I've put some old electronics and radio gear up on eBay. I've found some more, just need to take pictures and make eBay pages.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

FUDCon Blacksburg - Amateur Radio Frequencies

FUDCon Blacksburg is approaching. There will be a number of amateur radio operators there, so I thought I'd try to coordinate some simplex frequencies we can all use at the event. I'll be on the following:

223.500 MHz - the 1.25m band national calling frequency
927.500 MHz - a 33cm band simplex frequency
146.520 MHz - the 2m band national calling frequency

The only 220 repeater I could find in the area is currently offline. I could not find any 900 MHz repeaters in Virginia. I've been told 146.985 in Roanoke is a reasonable 2m repeater to use, though it gets crowded. If anyone has any suggestions, please comment.

In the extremely unlikely event that someone else shows up with 220 or 900 gear, I'll have those two bands linked at the event. That way users of those bands will get a double dose of silence.