20 November 2007

Just what have I been up to?

For those that may pass by, that question may arise, as my posting rate has gone downwards. I had predicted such, but for other reasons. Namely - moving. That got put off due to the health concerns of a loved one and that has kept me in the environs of NoVA that I do not adore, climate-wise. Along with those concerns comes having to get a bit more done around here, due to the problems of said loved one. Ahhhh... if only I were healthy, I wouldn't be blogging!

After that comes the lovely task of 'digital equipment refresh'. What is that, you may wonder? Well, due to the pace of change for computer equipment, the good things put in 3 or more years ago start to show their age as software and time start to take their toll. Beyond defragmenting hard-drives and such nice things, also updating of drivers may point to a BIOS needing upgraded which then ensues that overhead. When that is done you find that the system sub-components may have garnered some system overhead... which slows things down. And then there are the add-ons, 'neat things to try out', software updates (in which the software itself runs just a bit slower to be more 'secure'), and all the various little things that begin to encrust an operating system. This stuff is known as 'cruft' and after 3 years you either need to scrub it all down to the bare essentials and start over... which entails ensuring that re-installed software can, actually, re-install properly.... or... yes, starting over with a new system and moving data files over.

Another family member needed a new system for basic gaming, word processing, and such, plus net surfing, so I started out a few weeks back on that. In doing so I got refreshed on the current state of the art technology, which I had let slide since 2004. Before 2004 the entire PC industry had shifted from 'business' support to 'gaming support' for platforms with 'multimedia' growing up around *that*. Any system that could reliably handle games, would also have enough power to run any business application for the desktop AND have multimedia horsepower to spare. Gaming drove the PC industry on innovation, and still does to a large extent. The minimal necessary computing platform for all desktop business applications (word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, desktop database work) was basically met in or around 2000 by the PC industry. By 2003 the force of innovation and change moved from those apps to games, and that would then meld with things like HDTV and wanting to watch hours of video driven by a computer, and that got added into gaming specs.

So, distracted from the rest of the world by computing happened with that system buy (which someone *else* gets to troubleshoot!), but that brought to my attention another problem that had been getting to me for the last couple of years: my sluggish Desknote. The Desknote concept is: there are a class of travelers who need a light, portable, all-in-one PC that is not a laptop or notebook. By eliminating 'on the run' usage and targeting 'in your hotel room' and presentation use, the Desknote came in handy for mobile computing with fixed point use. I got one of those to supplement my working life and it transformed into my 'kitchen table computer' for tracking my needs while my health severely deteriorated. By shifting my tracking of insulin use and such to a spreadsheet, with formulas used to balance blood glucase, carbohydrate intake and insulin use, even during the worse of my catalepsy, I had a good and solid way to maintain my health in that area. Without that, I would probably not be here as my ability to track much of anything during those dark days was minimal.

Realizing the good that the device did me, its ability to actually do simple things like switch between tasks, was becoming a problem. Additionally some applications that used to run on that older computing platform had met their end-of-lifecycle-support for it. As I still face moving in the near future, I needed something reliable, capable and able to stay more or less 'as-is' once it got put down. After looking at scads of options, I was faced with either a more expensive system from a Build-To-Order dealer or something like a refurbished Dell.

Now, as a DIY builder of PCs, I had experienced a Dell *once* back in the late 1990's and that entailed: removing every bit of Dell software put on the poor thing so that it could operate well. I looked at a neat and clean list from the BTO shop and the list from Dell...spec to spec equivalent (although pluses and minuses) both sides, but a refurbished Dell looked good and so I purchased that. An Inspiron 1721, with extra hard drive and a few options I didn't want but had no choice on with a refurb unit. I thought I knew what I was getting into....

The plus side is excellent: good, integrated set-up for updating drivers, BIOS (Wow! the world *has* changed as that used to be a boot to floppy with updates and pray that it worked sort of deal before things way back pre-2004), software... excellent work. Kudos for Dell on that, and for keeping up with the industry to do that.

The negative of that: the software is damned intrusive, constantly pestering, eats up processing time and deserves to be shot. I do *not* want to pay for an upgrade to ANYTHING, nor do I want my problems tracked or my location, or a myriad of other things to give me a 'Dell Experience'. After getting everything up-to-date, the good went out with the bad, and I un-installed the stuff. It still sits on their 'emergency recovery disk area' which I will look at ways to reclaim once it is out of warranty.

The ugly: McAfee Anti-Virus. Seven or so years ago I could recommend it, as it was relatively efficient compared to its competitors. Back around 2004-05 I could not recommend it as it became a resource pig and I sent it squealing from my main system and put in Avast!, as seen in my sidebar. Free for personal use, always hitting in the top 5 of AV systems and often #1 or 2, it is a proven winner. It has relatively low overhead compared to McAfee, and the slow-down of McAfee on my system took what should have been, at most, an hour's work to remove the unwanted Dell software to something like 2 days. Getting rid of IT took another hour. Banished and gone, save the recovery area, and I now know what to get rid of *first* if some strange disaster strikes to wipe out my OS.

The truly awful: Windows Vista. As a refurb I couldn't get a nice, old copy of XP on it and, as previously put forth by me, I will not be switching Operating System bases anytime soon. When Windows 2000 came out, I spent time turning off a few bells and whistles to make it a nice WinNT upgrade. When WinXP came out, I saw that the amount of pre-loaded cruft on the OS was large and installed that on exactly *one* computer and then removed the cruft, disabled the bells and whistles, and got it down to something closer to Win2K which I wanted to be more like WinNT. Windows Vista is the Phyllis Diller of Operating Systems: no matter how much lipstick you put on it, it will never be beautiful. Getting those things found, disabled, turned off, muted, or sidetracked to never open has taken more than two days.

A note to the computer industry: the Personal Computer should meet personal needs. No matter how *nice* a special effect is, it eats up processor time, and I say to thee NAY! If Microsoft wanted to *really* impress me, it would allow the individual to select an absolutely stripped down GUI with the ability to add on a function here or there. Let me decide on the level of glitz as your idea of glitz and mine are absolutely different things. Whatever you do, do *not* have them all enabled as a standard distribution setting: they eat up enough processor time to make a decent and capable system (if not speedy) no better than its compatriot that I am replacing with a technology benchmark that was middling in 2003... running Win2K.

Ditto that to Dell - if I want obtrusive hand-holding, let me decide on the service package, ok? And on the pre-installed junk so that at first-time start-up I can be given a choice of installing stuff or *not*. As you already dictate a section of memory for it to 'recover' a system, just leave it there if I don't want it.

After that getting software installed (almost all of it FREE!) was just time net downloading, installing and running. Transfer a few files to a little key disk and shut the Desknote down and put the Inspiron up only took a bit to figure out wireless networking...

That I am addressing *next* as the ancient Linksys wireless router has always (and I do mean always) keeping a decent signal in my townhome. I get a better ability to hold a signal from the guy next door on the other side of his place. The ancient Linksys, bought way back when 802.11g was new (and I have updated its firmware) has never been satisfactory and becomes less so over time. After years of buying Linksys (now part of Cisco), I will give their competitor a try and see how a brand new D-Link gaming wireless router works out.

As sidelights other equipment has come in for home needs for ease of access to sitting in the bathtub and to dehumidify the main floor on the house. Plus minor computer problems I have addressed previously.

A new thing to go after the remains of my treatment for the skin infection I had, I started to use Defense Soap. Normally I'm not so hot on 'all natural' deals, but for anti-fungal needs I had enough of the high end and wanted to try a different method. So far, so good! Along most of the area where the small amounts of intractable fungal infection have not left, they are going away. Plus I got the travel kit from the Defense Soap folks and will be using their products for the next few months and, at this rate, my guess is that it will do better than all the high priced skin stuff I have used for the last year or so. The only downside: you are left smelling like an aggressive herb salad. Also it is slightly soporific but I have been dealing with *that* since 2004.

Through all of that I was able to put up that piece on the Red Mafia, which you would not want to hear me bitch about the time *that* took, and a few other posts and scattered commentary. Yes I am rolling up another couple of posts... but they are still in the 'research and input' stage.

I have been massively impressed by the US Armed Forces in Iraq, and they are bringing about the fastest change-over in a COIN operation on record. The folks in Iraq will have Iran, Syria and various Islamic terror groups to deal with for the forseeable future...but that is their National problem, not ours. If the can get the violence down to levels seen in Turkey, then that will be something that no naysayer could ever have predicted and which will be the start of a massive shift in the Middle East. Getting rid of al Qaeda and JaM (supported by Iran) in Iraq does not end their threats on a global basis... but it takes a lot of wind from their sails and makes them vulnerable on that same, global scale. We are still left with all other forms of illegitimate warfare that are getting more vitriolic and deadly over time, however, and ignoring *those* will get us in the exact, same sort of situation we were in on 9/10.

We must learn that in this new era, we must honor victory, not celebrate it as a final end save to major conflicts. The support of civilization and Nation States is the good in this fight and those to come down the pipeline for the next few decades, at least. It, like piracy, will always be with mankind so long as we are human. If we forget that, we will get killed by it.


Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Yeah, but an "aggressive herb salad" is worth it, if it works, eh? And Vista? I WON'T be purchasing it until and when I decide to purchase an entire new confuser -- and my next confuser just might be an Apple laptop. I'm becoming very tired of the PC world and its internet connections which result in viruses and crap.


A Jacksonian said...

Mr. Z - Indded it is worth it! This stuff is working where three different topicals have not done the trick (2 prescript and 1 OTC). Probably have to do a post on the stuff if it does get rid of the fungal infection - 6 months of the other topicals... longer, actually, to combat this stuff when it first cropped up with anti-biotics... has been too long. I will not complain about all natural if it works!

Remember, the headaches of the Mac world (or LINUX) are *different* than the PC world. Not necessarily *better*. Open Source operating systems are less prone to attacks... but gurudom is necessary when something needs to be fixed. This is the 'theory and practice conundrum' at play: in theory the Open Source implementations are better, in practice they are not keeping up with the user interface side as well as Macs and PCs... and Macs are very slick, right up until you need to do something they don't like to do.

This is *changing* and rapidly, especially as spare processor cycles are starting to outpace software bloat: running or emulating a second operating system isn't 'bad', just 'barely tolerable'. And as some of this stuff now goes through Java Script and macros, you *still* need anti-virus, anti-adware, etc., etc. This will be true until the HAL 9000 shows up... then do *not* purchase the pod bay doors option.

M. Simon said...

I was involved in the clone wars in '96. Maybe '95. I'd have to look it up.

Our stress testers used game software (Doom was a really good stresser I found out) to give the new machines a work out.

Sadly the philosophy then (as now) was: In case of problems reboot.

A Jacksonian said...

Simon - Doom was always a good stress test for the Pentium class of processor... if a system had problems it would show up during Doom.

While the LINUX fans point out the low need to reboot such systems and all the fun things that can be done with them, technically, they still lack the UI part that is user friendly and offers the wide variety of option of the CLI. Without a thorough and consistant UI and OS that is cross-compatible at an acceptable rate of speed, the need for Guruship puts it off the table. I am sure those things will come (via WINE and various UI projects) but they are lagging points.

Even worse is that no system I have experienced, be it an IBM-360/76, Macintosh, PC or even C64, has been thoroughly without the need to reboot. Even the poor traffic signals get power-outages and forced reboots... the only stuff that goes without that are most satellites and space probes and even *those* get updates and reboots.

Quantum computing may obviate that... but I am sure it will have *other* problems.