Posts filed under 'IT'

’script error’ casues dreamhost customers to be billed for 2008/2009

If you are a dreamhost customer you might want to check your credit card/bank statement. A glitch in billing means dreamhost customers were charged various amounts from $200 - up to $4000 for their accounts..

Dreamhost is working to fix the problem and refund victims, if you are a customer I suggest you check your credit card/bank statement as you may experience overdraft fees, etc.

http://www.dreamhoststatus.com/2008/01/15/billing-issues/
(more there but page is down now due to digg etc)

Add comment January 15th, 2008

Monkey is not… whaa?

mnr2.jpg
Sometimes… Linux confuses me

Some time yesterday night, I found out that my monkey wasn’t running. Apparently, diggers found this amusing.

In the meantime I’m still trying to install Linux on my latest project PC (an ancient pentium 1). So far, things are going mostly OK (except for a dead hard disk, vague serial mouse, and aforementioned monkey problem).

FYI: My aim is to find a linux distro that will run nicely on an old PC, in lieu of Microsoft software. Currently I’ve tried DSL, Mepis, and Delilinux, neither is quite there yet. DSL looks promising, but I have to resolve the hard disk glitches.

1 comment August 19th, 2007

Bryce 5.5 available for free!

Like Bryce? you can now pick up a free licenced version of Bryce 5.5 at download.com!

http://www.download.com/3120-20_4-0.html?tg=dl-20&qt=bryce%205.5

They have mac and windows versions - make sure you select the right version.

ps: after you download it, install it and get a licence key from here:
http://www.daz3d.com/bryce55

2 comments June 18th, 2007

Assembling a Vista Premium capable PC

Viewsonic VA702

I set out to build this PC in Dec 2006, primarily for the purpose of testing out Windows Vista. I wanted a PC that was suitable light work, some surfing, occational videos, etc. As such the specs were fairly modest, also the PC was reasonably inexpensive (under 100K, including monitor).

Target configuration:
Vista premium capable
Dual core processor
Dual channel ram, at least 1GB ram
decent 17inch monitor
DVD writer.
Complete black system (I’ve always wanted to assemble one of these!)

Motherboard
I needed a motherboard with support for dual core processors and dual channel ram, also reliability and staibility.

After considering many different motherboards. I finally chose a Gigabyte 8i945gzme-RH, as it was affordable (around 10k from IT LAND, Unity Plaza), had an Intel chipset, and supported Intel dual core processors (Pentium D and Core 2 Duo).

Processor
I chose an Intel 820D (Stepping B0, SL8CP) (2.8GHz X 2) as it was cheaper (around 12k from ITLAND) than a Core2 which retailed for over 20k then (I decided to use the money saved to get a better monitor).

Ram
I chose Kingston ValueRam. As I wanted to enable dual channel ram, the ram had to consist of identical parts from the same manufacturer. I used 2 512MB Kingston DDR2 ram modules (KVR533D2N4/512 total cost 13,500/- One from IT Land, and the second from Mitech computers, Unity plaza, as IT Land only had one on stock).

Hard disk
Since all modern motherboards include SATA and IDE support is mostly for legacy drives, I chose a Hitachi SATA 250GB HDD - cost exactly 9k, from Mitech computers (Unity plaza)

Case
Generic case with a 450Watt power supply (400W+ power supply recommended for dual core PC’s). I chose a case with a fresh air intake for the CPU. Case cost under 3K, from Asian Computer Systems (Unity Plaza)

Monitor
I chose a Viewsonic VA702, (24,500 , Asian Computer Systems, Unity Plaza)

Graphics
I rarely play computer games, so the onboard graphics were OK. Thankfully the motherboard has a PCI Express slot available, should I decide to upgrade at a future date.

DVD
I used a spare NEC 8X DVD writer I had.

Performance
Performance under both Vista and XP was absolutely stellar. Using dual channel ram and SATA HDD (Originally I used an ATA133 HDD) had measurable benefits.

Conclution
So thats my spec for a decent general purpose Vista premium capable PC, taking into account Sri Lankan prices and availability (As of Dec 06).

Update: Am looking to upgrade, so this PC is for sale. If you are interested in purchasing the PC alone or PC + Monitor, contact me at nsharp [at] nsharp.org. I’ve owned this PC for the last 3 months but havent really used it much except to install and test Vista (and it includes a 3 year warranty).

6 comments March 6th, 2007

CrispyBlogPosts Beta now public

Crispy Blog Posts

Crispy blog posts is now in public beta.
See here: http://crispyblogposts.com/

So, what is CPB? It’s a social bookmarking site for blog posts, with voting, categories (called channels) and other cool features.

CBP is designed to allow you to submit blog posts to various existing categories (or you can make new channels) and people can vote on those posts. Based on votes, posts will either go up or down.

So, CBP is something that combines the best of Digg and Technorati.

I think it would be nice if people could register and interact (forums/comments etc) but the ability to use the site anonymously is a great idea, sadly lacking in most social sites. (I like the idea of comments because good comments can enhance a link/point to alternate viewpoints etc)..

3 comments February 18th, 2007

Ubuntu: Tips and tricks 1

So, let’s say you’ve installed Ubuntu. Here are a few simple tips to get you going.
 

1. Customise the panel (taskbar)

Classic windows desktop in Ubuntu!
It’s the classic Windows XP desktop - In Ubuntu!!

Ubuntu includes the Gnome panel - this allows you to add or remove menu items in various ways to panels - they can be located on the top/bottom/left/right of screen, like XP’s taskbar - Unlike XP, you can have more than one taskbar in Ubuntu.

I like Windows XP’s menu system, so I’ve configured my system to be similar (single panel at bottom like XP taskbar). Here’s how I did that:

  1. Delete bottom panel: (right click over it, and click delete)
  2. Move top panel to bottom: right click, select panel properties, change orientation to bottom.
  3. Delete the various menu items you don’t need from the panel (I deleted all except the date) by rightclicking and selecting remove from panel).
  4. Add the main menu: Right click panel, select add to panel, scroll down to ‘utilities’, find main menu, click it and drag it to bottom left of panel.
  5. Add the show desktop button (under desktop and windows).
  6. Add tabs: to add a list of tabs for open windows, select window list under desktop and windows, and drag it to the bottom.
  7. Add the network monitor (or modem monitor if you use one).
  8. You can add any other icons you like.

2. Add the computer to your desktop

Not that you need to, but if you miss it, you can add it by dragging it off the places menu

3. Adding shortcuts

Ubuntu allows you to set up keyboard shortcuts - in this case I will show how to set up a shortcut for Terminal (some Ubuntu tasks need you to access the terminal). You can make a hotkey to it easily by going to System - Preferences - Keyboard Shortcuts, then select Run a terminal, and press the shortcut combination you want - e.g. alt+t, and click close.

4. Enable media playback

By default, Ubuntu does not enable playback of non open source media formats via its movie player. To re-enable this feature so you can play DivX, etc, by following the instructions here: (do whats described in the “how to make things work in a hurry” section.

https://help.ubuntu.com/community/RestrictedFormats

5. Install Wine (Enables you to run Windows software under Ubuntu Linux!!)

MS Word under Ubuntu Linux, via Wine 
Microsoft Word under Wine - not really necessary as open office is already installed - but I did this to test the installation process on Wine - it works!

  1. Open synaptic package manager (System - Administration - Synaptic package manager.
  2. Enable all repositories (Settings - repositories - and tick the unticked ones)
  3. Reload (click reload).
  4. Click search, type Wine - scroll through the list till you find “wine” and doubleclick Mark the packages, then click apply
  5. Downloading package files wait for all files to be downloaded, follow the prompts to install Wine.

After you instal wine, you can run a program by clicking Alt F2 (run) and then type wine /path/to/application e.g. wine /media/cdrom0/setup.exe

You can now install many Windows applications on your Ubuntu PC, and even create shortcuts to them.

6. Reconfigure Screen (if it doesnt work properly)

Sometimes Ubuntu’s default installation won’t detect your monitor properly (e.g. you can’t select all the resolutions you had under XP), also if you change your monitor (e.g. from a CRT to LCD) or change graphic cards, you might find that ubuntu no longer loads properly.

You can fix this by reconfiguring the graphics setup by logging to terminal on startup (press esc when Grub loads and follow the prompts) then type:

sudo dpkg-reconfigure xserver-xorg

7. Pronounce the name right

For some strange reason, some people pronounce Ubuntu as U-BAN-tu. This is wrong. Ubuntu is pronounced as oo-BOON-tu, and if you don’t believe me, just watch the video about Ubuntu which features Nelson Mandela (included on the installation disk).

So, what are your favorite Ubuntu tricks? Please add them as comments

Need more tips and tricks? Check out the Ubuntu forum here:
http://ubuntuforums.org/forumdisplay.php?f=100

21 comments January 4th, 2007

Search 3.0: The Evolution of Web Search

Since the dawn of the Interwebs, there have been three major activities people online have engaged in:

  1. Generating content (building websites, uploading media, etc).
  2. Searching for content.
  3. Viewing content (created by other people).

People reached content through a process which could generally be described as searching.

Web search had three distinct eras:

The Yahoo Era: They decide the results for your search
A single company maintained directories, and built lists  They decided what site fitted in what category.

Why this approach eventually failed:
No single company can decide the relevance or accuracy of search.

This failure led to the second era of search,

The Google Era: Webmasters and algorithms determine search results

Google came up with a better idea - how about we let other people with websites decide -  Google currently uses PageRank as a method of deciding the relevance of results (they use other technologies but PageRank is predominantly responsible for assigning the order of results.

PageRank, grossly simplified, works something like this: Websites decide each others relevancy for a particular term.

e.g. a user searches for McDonalds. Google checks its directory to see “which site has the most incoming links labeled McDonalds” and delivers that site.

Why this method WILL eventually fail / what is wrong with this approach:

When you let other websites decide, you are still at the mercy of those websites. (See the concept of GoogleBombing, for example).

Basically, this concept has one major flaw: It’s open to gaming by other webmasters - those with money can buy their way in, and/or game results through many different ways (complex interlinking, paid links, etc).

An ideal search should deliver results which are accurate, not just popular

The Digg Era (Not really search but it’s content delivery still):
You decide

With Digg (Or Reddit, FARK, etc), two interesting things happened to search:

  1. Search comes to you - Social sites automatically display the most popular content for the day, according to ordinary visitors. So instead of you heading out and searching for content, the content comes to you through a process of statistical analysis by your peers.
  2. Popularity is decided by ordinary people - Not a single entity (Yahoo) or other people with websites (Google). This makes the results more democratic, but still not perfect.

Note: Digg (and the other social sites) are not search engines but I believe they are used as search engines and the concept might be applied to other sites.

What’s wrong with the Digg model:

  1. Friend networks: Digg may be considered democratic, but still the vast majority of content comes from a few users or groups. It’s not rigged as such, but it just isn’t perfect yet.
  2. The Reputation concept: Under digg, something Robert Scoble posts is more likely to make it, than something I post. Yes, this makes sense to most people, but it still isn’t perfect - In a perfect system all content should be equally judged on merit, not just on who wrote it, or what website it was published on.

So how do I want to see the future of Search on the web?

In a perfect system, every piece of content would have an equal weight, and be judged purely on its own merit, not on who posted it, what IP they had, which website they said it on, what their skin color, nationality or political affiliation was, etc.

So how could that ever be achieved? What other concepts do I hope to see in search engines of the future:

  1. Content existing as itself in blocks, Search Engines of the future should see data independent of creator - i.e. without attribution - so as to remove bias. In this perfect system
  2. Clustering: complex relationships explored in search, including relevance and relationship between similar concepts and searches.
  3. Independent formats (microformats?): Data items (for example this post) would exist as an independent unit (data may exist independent of formatting, layout, perhaps even independent of language),
  4. Future Engines should ‘understand’ data: i.e. a search engine would do more than just copying this to its cache and tagging keywords - it would attempt to place this post and explore the concepts and/or compare it to others in its archives.
  5. True democracy: a search engine would see content independent of the web site it is hosted on, or the person who created it, and rank it on purely on its intrinsic value.

Add comment January 3rd, 2007

OS Roundup: Linux XP: Installation

LXP desktop 
Linux XP

As we move into 2007, I’ve decided to review three operating systems: Linux XP, Ubuntu, and Vista. To kick off my reviews, I will be starting with Linux XP.

Introduction 
The main problem most ordinary people find with switching to Linux is that Linux is not Windows. Most Linux users don’t find a problem with this as they consider Linux superior - HOWEVER, typical Windows users find the idea of switching to a new OS or way of doing things simply too daunting.

Linux XP seems to be aimed at solving this problem. Basically, this OS tries to mirror XP’s look and feel. In this review I will install LXP, and see how well it functions in terms of performance, ease of use and compatibility.

Note: Unlike typical Linux distros, Linux XP is not free - you can install it and use it around 99 times after which it will require Activation - I guess they copied this feature from Windows XP also ;) . Thankfully Linux XP costs only around $19, which is relatively affordable.

Quick Installation Guide

  1. Download the ISO image of the installation disk from http://www.linux-xp.com/ - and burn that image onto a CD. Thankfully Linux XP requires just one disk
  2. Boot your PC off that CD.
  3. Welcome: At this point, you will get a welcome screen showing “Linux XP desktop 2006″ - for some reason the text was garbled on my monitor (a Viewsonic LCD). I tried another monitor, AND another graphics card, but no luck. Anyway, pressing enter here will take you to the installation screen.
  4. Partitioning: (image) next, you will be asked about how you want to set up your partitions - you have the choice to select automatic partitioning or manual partitioning. I selected manual - if you select manual, remember you have to set up (at least) a root partition (think of it as your “C:” drive) and a “swap” partition (unlike windows which uses a swap file, Linux can use a whole partition as a swap drive - this approach makes more sense really. I set up a 2GB root partition and a 1GB swap partition. (Tip: click New and select / for root partition, and enter size, click OK;, for the swap partition, select swap under file system type).
  5. Boot loader - LXP uses GRUB which is fine. Click next.
  6. Network config (If you have a network card). I just clicked next here, you can edit the options if necessary for your network.
  7. Time zone - select your time zone.
  8. Root password - this is the root account for administration - enter a password and click next.
  9. About to install: LXP is now ready to install - at this point you will get a warning that this is the last opportunity you will have to chicken out (so far nothing has been changed on your computer). Click next to continue.
  10. Installing Packages: LXP now starts the installation process - first, the partitions will be set up and formatted, after which LXP starts to transfer an image to the hard drive. Like XP, the installation process is graphical with a status bar showing completion of each project.
  11. System Installation Progress: (image) At this point, a taskbar will show installation progress.
    Note: My installation froze and popped up an error message complaining of a problem in the CDROM. I fixed this by burning another CD and continuing the installation (did not need to restart).
  12. Reboot - after installation completes, the CD will eject and you must reboot.

Coming up next: a review of Linux XP.

4 comments January 1st, 2007

Dual Core and Heat

Dual Core Goodness

Over the last few days I’ve been experiencing problems with heat in my PC. I’ve found out that dual core CPU’s run quite hot, even in an air conditioned environment.

Modern intel processors ship with a round heatsink which has a copper core. Due to this:

  1. The processors integrated heat spreader (IHS) which is usually square, does not contact fully with the surface of the heatsink (which is round).
  2. Due to the small area in contact, (and the fact that most intel processors generate a lot of heat), heat transfer between the CPU and the heatsink becomes a big issue - basically, for the heat to be transfered fast enough there must be remarkably good contact between the surface of the processor and the heatsink.
  3. Lastly, mounting the heatsink is a complex task. I highly recommend you remove the motherboard, or mount the heatsink before you put the motherboard in the case - the reason for this is so that you can hold the board from under as you push in each of the four connectors. Doing this when the board is already installed isn’t too easy as you need to use a lot of force and risk damaging the board by flexing it.

Experiments on heat conductivity:
The importance of thermal paste

  1. Heatsink affixed on processor with no thermal paste: CPU reached 87 degrees within 1 second and was shut down via bios, before throttling kicked in.
  2. Heatsink affixed with generic unity plaza heatsink paste (aka toothpaste like stuff) - this worked surprisingly well under idle conditions, the cpu reached around 47 degrees. The problem occured when loading each of the two cores - at a 100% load of both cores, I recorded around 76 degrees - very dangerous and well over Intel recommended specs. (The problem with this paste is that it does not transmit heat fast enough - i.e. when idle it is capable of transmitting heat across but under full load the processor generates so much heat it simply overwhelms the ability of this paste to transfer heat.
  3. Intel original heatsink thermal pad - achieved best results with an idle of 40 - 42 and maxing out at around 60 degrees - still not ideal but considering the ambient at 24 degrees approx, this wasnt too bad.
  4. Intel original heatsink thermal pad  reseated - heat rapidly rose to above 70 and system was shut down for safety - this is because the thermal pad is not designed to be reused - i.e. if you remove the heatsink for any reason, clean the thermal pad fully from both CPU and heatsink, and apply a new original intel spec thermal pad! (what happens is, when you attempt the reuse the thermal material, it simply does not flow correctly over the IHS, and lumps build up leading to uneven contact.

On contacting the official intel representative, I was told that intel thermal paste/pads are not available in Sri Lanka! I.e. I gather, if someone removes their heatsink for any reason, they should buy a new heatsink with thermal pad!

Thankfully, a local Intel representative (eSys) did have the relevant replacement thermal pad on stock (Honeywell PCM 45) and were kind enough to give me 2 for free - thanks guys!

Heat and Dust*

In Sri Lanka, due to the increased ambient temperature and high amount of dust we face a few problems which include:

  1. Huge amounts of dust build up in the system, blocking the fans and heatsinks (as lanetop pointed out to me) this can rapidly cripple a system. Whereas modern CPU’s include thermal throttling and other technology to protect the CPU in case of heat, many other components do NOT include any safety feature as such.
  2. Ambient temperature - due to the high ambient, most components (such as northbridge/southbridge, graphics, and hard disk require EXTRA cooling).

Humidity and corrosion:

Many PC’s experience rust, due to the massive amounts of humidity in the air. This causes the following problems:

  1. Connections failing - copper contacts, e.g. in memory chips start to fail causing system crashes.
  2. Rust - cases/power supplies are particularly prone to this problem.

The only way to protect a PC from this is to use it in an airconditioned room/low humidity environment.

Cooling other components in your PC:

Aside from the processor, many other components are vulnerable to heat

  1. Hard disk - the hard disk is extremely sensitive to heat. Operating at temperatures over 50 degrees could easily lead to data loss. Simply put if your hard disk is hotter than around 35 degrees you should use a separate fan to cool it down - you have two options here - a dedicated hard disk cooler (you can buy them at unity plaza) or simply suspend a small casing fan above the hard disk (this is a better option IMO)
    TIP: You can monitor your hard disk temperature via any software that can read the SMART output, e.g. speedfan.
  2. Chipset (northbridge/southbridge)- these two chips heat up rapidly. Even if your case is well cooled, they can rapidly build up heat - the simplest solution is to install a heatsink for each (usually they come with heatsinks) and a fan if the heatsink is hot to touch.
  3. Airflow through case - ensure that air flows properly through the case - ideally you should have a powerful fan at the bottom of the PC drawing air in, and a fan on top pushing air out.

Monitoring heat on your PC.

Most modern PC’s come with a number of inbuilt sensors. You can read them via free software such as Motherboard Monitor or Speedfan. I recommend speedfan as it is easier and works with modern dual core CPU’s.

Conclusions/Summary

  1. Do not remove the processor heatsink - unless you have a spare thermal pad.
  2. Ensure that all components in your PC are cooled sufficiently (CPU, Chipset, HDD, Graphics card)
  3. Regularly clean the PC, to prevent dust build up inside, remove the case cover and use a vacumn/blower to remove the dust.
  4. Use software to monitor temperatures, enable bios overheat/fan failure shutdown.

*Not a reference to M. M. Kaye’s excellent book

12 comments December 21st, 2006

Speed up your PC in four simple steps.

Simple steps to improve your PC’s performance.

  1. Upgrade your memory - Use at least 256MB ram for Win2k/98 etc, and at least 512MB ram for XP/VISTA (1GB recommended).
  2. Reinstall your OS - if your are using a windows based OS, reinstall it at least once every few months (or you can mirror a clean installation and restore it easily) Windows tends to get slowed down after a few weeks of operation. (make sure you format the partition before you reinstall). Also, when you reinstall, install only the software you need.
  3. Turn off unnecessary startup/taskbar apps (run MSCONFIG or SYSEDIT)
  4. Turn off unnecessary windows services (XP and 2k). XP Unnecessary services list

More tips: 

  1. Use a firewall software - zonelabs zonealarm is relatively OK but they tend to phone home which is disturbing.
  2. Use an antivirus - try AntiVir which is free for personal non commercial use.
  3. Have an OS and Data partition, where the OS partition contains the Operating System and software, and the data partition contains… er… data. Mirror the OS partition so you can restore it easily.
  4. Don’t visit dodgy sites (dOH)
  5. Don’t download suspicious software - if you are downloading anything, download it directly from the manufacturers site or a reputed site like download.com. Beware anything which has spyware/adware.
  6. Use firefox to surf (a bit safer than IE)
  7. Use a simple version of any software. I use Office 97 for wordprocessing as it  does most of what I want (and doesnt require gigabytes of space and GHZ of processing power like newer Office/Open Office releases)

Have a tip not listed here? Please add it as a comment! Thanks

2 comments November 8th, 2006

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