Got Apple Software on your Machine?

If a computer company doesn’t mind disabling hardware they don’t own, why won’t they stoop to disabling your PC?

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  • Updates add more DRM schemes.
  • Updates disable hardware
  • Updates disable third party iPod software.

Don’t run updates from Apple.

Before the brick-a-phone update, I was seriously considering getting a mac laptop out of nostalgia for the Mac SE and my mostly favorable experience with my iPod. Fortunate for me, the actual need for a laptop was far off and I never acted on it.

My next laptop will be Windows XP.

Replacing the water cooler

The water cooler failed.  After ripping the son of a bitch out, it appears the internal copper bits corroded, probably from using distilled water instead of blue stuff, which is not available anywhere except mail order.

Water cooling is not ready for consumers, here’s a few reasons, based on my experience:

The cooler did not work at all with a standard case.  It endangered parts should it have ever leaked, required brackets and screw holes that don’t exist on standard case.  It was too huge and bulky to actually fit in a rather big box.  The tubes interfered with expansion cards and were hard to position without crimping.

The water cooling system was extremely loud and not much better at cooling that the huge heat sink I have replace it with.  My replacement runs at 36 at idle and 45 at 100% CPU usage.

The water cooling system appears to have required some weird chemical to keep the internals from corroding.  Given that the coolant appears to somehow evaporate and escape from this seemingly sealed system, it cool run out of coolant at any moment.  Ordinary consumers not going to stand for a cooling system that requires mail ordering coolant.  I’m not even entirely sure about this theory, as I have always suspected that the company was trying to pry more money out of me by saying that only their secret blend of weird chemicals worked in their cooler.  Rather than have give them another buck, I’ll tell them to themselves f*k.

Proprietary cooling chemicals.  You don’t put proprietary software into your machine, why put proprietary cooling chemicals in your machine?

Installation.  I have a huge box full of parts left over from installation.  The cooling system increased the number of parts in my computer by a full 50% at least.

(brand names & links to the guilty to be added later)

When is [Insert technical field name here] fun?

I think it is fun when it has recently hit humans.  When stone tipped spears were brand new, I bet you didn’t have to encourage kids to study chipping at arrowheads.

When calculus was new–I bet people studied it because it was the hot new thing.  Now calculus is universal and required (at least for technical fields). 

When I was a kid, programming was fun.  Mostly because it was the hot new thing.  In retrospect, programming wasn’t painful only because the constraints of the machines and tools forced us to become ludicrously modest in our goals.

When I hear on TV an actor playing a scientist say, “Science is fun!” I think, the science they are talking about on TV hasn’t been fun since the enlightenment, 200 years ago.

Fast forward to now.  Stone tip tools are studied by re-enactors and archeologists.  Calculus is a slog.  Programming is work.

Terminate with extreme prejudice: WinCinemaMgr.exe

WinCinemaMgr.exe installed itself without my permission into the startup queue. It didn’t ask explicit permission, it is malware. The delivery vector is the Sandisk Mp3 player. It isn’t an evil MP3 player and my son like it just fine, but Sandisk’s developers have no respect what so ever for their users. If I wanted to load up my startup queue with sh*t I would have browsed known malware sites.

[Update: I renamed the file and it..came back! Ugh!]

Harm done:

4MB memory erase from my system forever (or until I rip wincinemamgr.exe out of my computer). If you multiple the number of WinCinemaMgr infections by 4MB, you get the total amount of computer hardware, destroyed and rendered useless by SanDisk. I’m figuring a million installation, or about about 3,000GB, which works out to about $384,000 of national sabotage.

Unmeasured CPU usage. I figure it was probably lurking at something between 0 and 1%, again– work out the cost of 1% of a CPU, 1% of the electricity my computer draws, times a million users and all of a sudden, WindCinemaMgr.exe is doing some serious destruction.

Harddrive space 296KB * 2 copies, times 1 million userrs. That is 325GBs. Even with harddrives as cheap as they are, a third of a terabyte of space that no on ever wanted used up is a crime.

Stay tuned, maybe tomorrow I’ll rant about realsched.exe and if I get real ambitious, I’ll write a batch file for killing crapware and put that in my startup queue.

Review: Mac on a Stick

Mac on a stick is a prove-it-can-be done project.  Meaning, it has no substative purpose other than proving that you can run a virtual Mac Classic from a thumb drive.

The vMac emulator requires assembling half a dozen files from multiple websites.  One assembled, you can launch the mac emulator, choose the boot disk and you are up.  Now the real work starts.

Unless you already are on a Mac, mounting the the disk on Windows requires using a slow, non-intuitive application to move files from Windows to the disk image.  It only works on disks that are not in use.  Ideally, one would like to drag and drop files between windows. 

Next, the vMac has no networking capabilities.  It might be nice to have a non-networked computer for doing things that require concentration and few distractions, such as writing a short story. However, so far I’ve only found some primitive text editors that are still available.  However, one I finish writing my great document, I want to be able to quickly transfer it to a real word processor where I can edit, print and publish it.  Getting files out of a Mac requires the same clunky utility.  Then you will face the challenge of getting any modern word processor to deal with the file you created.

In fact, any application that involves the creation or editing of  existing files is going to have this problem.  Mac on a stick not only brings back the good ole days of a simpler OS, but of the total lack of file format interop.

The Mac never really was a important gaming platform, so you can’t play a lot of compelling games on the vMac.  Utility applications I found on the remaining mac classic software download site have comparable windows versions, usually for free, better quality and also portable.

I’m thinking that Ubunutu on a stick is a more compelling idea. 

There may still be a single time when a emulator like vMac is interesting: When you don’t have administrator rights on a computer.  But the vMac sandbox is so limiting, you might as well be a standard user.

Boot Loader Personality Disorder

Boot loaders and the programmers who write them, are not the sort I’d want to invite to a party.  He would show up, untalkative and quietly change all the locks and board up all my roommates doors. They he’d paint my walls, re-arrange the furniture, change all the locks and then leave town.

I finally got the laptops to triple boot.  It was an ugly process.  Except for Linux, Vista and XP each wanted to act like they were the only operating system on the computer.  Vista and XP do not play well with each other, the XP boot loader can’t load Vista and Vista lets XP overwrite the MBR.

Linux tries to make sure everyone else can still boot by filling in the appropriate settings in the Grub configuration and menu files, but if you install a Windows operating system afterwards, XP and Vista will try to screw things up.

The configuration that finally works is to boot to GRUB first, Grub then can load either Ubuntu or the Vista Boot loader.  The Vista Boot loader, in turn lets you pick Vista or XP. 

I’ll post the utilites I used shortly. Ubuntu requires a live disk and cryptic grub commands to restore GRUB, Windows requires a free 3rd party utility that isn’t very well documented to get Vista and XP to play with each other.

I suspect that if the installation was XP -> Vista -> Linux, things would have been smoother.  However the machine already had Vista, then I added Linux, then XP. XP blew away Linux, and made it hard to boot to Vista anymore either.  So it took a lot of google fu to get thing working again.

Geek Charity– Donate Bandwidth and CPU Cycles

Every computer represents more computing power than you can possibly use, except for a few minutes of peak number crunching a day. Same goes for bandwith.

The extra CPU cycles are easy to give away, since recipients don’t care when you give them CPU cycles. When you need your CPU, recipient jobs will wait.

Bandwidth is a harder to give away because the operating system doesn’t do a good job of giving priority to my browser and lowest priority to charitable recipients of my extra bandwidth.

I was a happy user of United Devices/Grid.org and had donated nearly 4 years of CPU time before it bit the dust on Friday.

I am now promoting BOINC, which is a free framework for distributed computing.  You can either join an exiting project, or you can create your own project.  Someday when I have a massive math problem that is easy to state, but hard to solve without 100′s of days of computer time, it will be exciting to try it out.

For now, I’m going to run the BOINC client.  The BOINC client asks you what projects you want your computer to work on. After consulting the BOINC directory, you pick the charitable cause that you think is worth the higher electric bill. (Trivia, with boinc my computer’s CPU runs at 46C, that hotter than it was under UD agent)

Advice: check the estimated time of completion for a job.  Some jobs take up to three months of 24 hour a day computing.  If your computer isn’t on all the time, the task won’t finish before the due date.  For your ocassionally on machines, pick BOINC projects with short jobs.

Personally, I’m skipping the cryptography, the search for space aliens, and solving esoteric math problems and other similar projects of limited social value.  The bio-informatics area–drug searching, DNA decoding and epidemiological simulations–is an good place to start, but if you are doing protein folding, you might as well let the specialized computers like the Sony PS3 do the work, since a PS3 is so much more efficient at calculating protein folding than a PC, the work done on a PC represents electricity wastage more than a charitable donation.

I donate bandwidth using Bit Torrent. It’s a charitable act when you are picking out organization that other wise couldn’t afford the bandwidth, or when the bits themselves represent a good cause.  Examples would include FOSS software, public domain art, non-profit websites trying to distribute large files, etc. 

Bit Torrent was originally intended to be a utility to speed the downloads of large, popular files.  If I want to give the Red Cross, say, some of my bandwidth, I first need to get a file from the Red Cross so I can distribute it, but if it is a file I wouldn’t download anyhow, then I would make the a negative contribution to the bandwidth of the charitable organization.

So instead of using a directory to find charitable organizations, use your own directory of previously downloaded files and pick which ones you want to let the uploading go on and on. 

My favorite bandwidth recipients are Vox Libris (the free audio book organization), Guttenburg project (free public domain books), and Ubuntu (free operating systems).  I happen to use these and since I have the file, I’m more than happy to donate my bandwidth so that the organizations that originated them don’t have such a big internet bill when it comes to distributing their bits.

Vista Temptations

I’ve been tempted by Vista. But the feeling keeps passing.

It has parental control features, like, no gaming or favorite websites during homework hours. I think, this would be great for my sisters with gaming age children.  But then I realize that the UI has completely changed and half (really?) of existing XP software doesn’t work on Vista. I don’t want to be the family helpdesk for those calls just yet.

It will have Halo 3. Someday. It will have Xbox Live for PC’s. For some games. Someday. It has directX 10! Which will be used by games–someday.

Then I think, man, I’m going to be working on Vista someday, might as well get started.  Then I realize I’d need a new boot drive.  Or install it to a VPC.  And I start to think that all of that sounds like a lot of work.  Then with a dual boot set up, I know I won’t be in Vista very often unless there is a killer application.  I hate rebooting, so given my infrequent booting habits, dual boot, means few opportunities to pick the other operating system.

I haven’t even tried it and I’m planning on turning off UAC and the other CPU eating security measures.  I don’t want security if it is going to use 100 watts and some arbitrary, large percent of my CPU’s cycles.

Parental Controls

Windows Vista will have parental controls, but I’m not upgrading anytime soon, not for anything mission critical like my Halo server.

So how to limit my kid’s mischief on the computer? In my household, the issue is playing more hours of computer games than I think prudent. Games reduce time available for reading, exercise and real life socializing. I don’t mind the games so long as they don’t squeeze out time for these other activities. Ideally, a computer would be used for a hour or two gaming and maybe an hour or two doing useful stuff, like writing, learning something, reading wikipedia. So can technology help me or must I stand behind my son all the time?

- KidsWatch Time Contorl- This either prohibits an application or says it can only be played for a set amount of time depending on the schedule and user.

-LUA, aka, limited account- It is good for preventing accidental installation of spyware. Many legitimate games still require administrative rights.

-Keystroke loggers, screen recorders- Too much information, Big brother isn’t exactly a good idea for adults or children.

-Firewalls- Some firewalls can open ports for particular time schedules, this might help for a limited range of applications. NetNanny and the like can block some, but not all sites with naked people and foul language. Besides, the more you restrict that kind of content because it isn’t suitable for children, the louder the message is that the content is suitable for adults.

-USB keys- These applications turn off the computer when the keys aren’t in place. I don’t mind excessive computer usage for good (reading wikipedia, learning to program), so turning the whole thing off just means the first budgeted hours on the computer will be used for gaming, then the computer gets turned off. Hardly the desired outcome.

Here’s the delicious tag with links

http://del.icio.us/suburbandestiny/ParentalControl (my parental control links)

http://del.icio.us/tag/ParentalControl (everyone’s parental control links)

Dual Monitors and SLI Woes

Ok, listen to this. If you want to run dual monitors, you can’t use SLI mode, and worse to switch to dual monitors, you have to reboot.

http://forums.nvidia.com/index.php?showtopic=6269

The intresting post above seems to say that if you want SLI and dual monitor output without reboot and plug/unplug/plug/unplug misery, you have to get a third video card for the second monitor, interestingly enough, the configuration seems to work better when the 3rd card is not Nvidia!

To make matters worse, my water cooling device gets in the way of the plugs so not all 4 of them are exposed. And of course every time I change modes, Nvidia wants to make the least accessible plug the main monitor.

And if I plug a monitor into the digital slot, it doesn’t always detect it or is seemingly random about how it detects it.

Grumble, grumble.