Monday, March 31, 2014

Solid State Drive: So far, so good

It has been nearly a week since upgrading the old laptop to a solid state drive. The laptop is running Ubuntu 13.10, which was previously lagging using a standard hard drive.

Admittedly, the old drive was a 5400 rpm drive. There would be some improvement with a 7200 rpm drive; but, for about a similar cost, why not go for SSD?

If you are thinking about switching to SSD to speed up your computer a bit, especially for a version of Linux, there are modifications you can do to minimize wear and tear on the drive. In addition to increasing the longevity of the drive, the modifications also improve the performance of your drive by eliminating unnecessary reads and writes. Each version of Linux has recommendations you might want to Google.

I'll be eschewing unnecessary updates too. The performance is a little better than my Chromebook. I think I can keep it that way by not allowing updates to make it crufty. My usage mainly consists of using web services for work.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

I Moved Into Ubuntu 13.10 On A SSD

I picked up a Chromebook some time ago, which my family learned to enjoy. Unfortunately, my son has taken it for his own, leaving me without a "computer". I can do plenty on my tablet; but, for some things you need an actual computer. Sometimes you need to run software that would make Android cry; sometimes you just need a real keyboard.

So, I put Ubuntu 13.10 on an old Vostro 1000 laptop. The laptop has seen better days. My first installation was on a standard HDD. It was a bit laggy. So today I picked up a 250 GB Samsung 840 EVO solid state drive that was at a good price locally. There were other drives available with better performance; but, I don't think I would be putting the extra speed to good use given that the laptop itself is pretty old.

The result is a noticable increase in performance. I also read up on optimizing Ubuntu for solid state drives, and followed the instructions.

Why It's Overkill

I was trucking along rather well on the Chromebook with only 16 GB of storage. I put all my information in the cloud, with some items stored locally on thumb drives and SSD cards. Consequently, most of the 16 GB is free. 250 GB for a Linux laptop is way more than I need to store I see myself continuing to store files in Google Drive or in other cloud storage services. After installing Ubuntu and the all important Google Chrome, I have more than 220 GB available, which will mostly remain empty. 

Minimizing writes to an SSD increases the device's longevity. That is my aim by minimally using all the extra space. The SSD controllers will spread out the writes throughout the entire available space to wear it out evenly, 

What I Expect Will Happen

My expectation with having a larger than necessary drive is that, barring any manufacturer defect, the drive will outlast the other components on the laptop. In fact, I expect that at some point Ubuntu will grow crufty and require re-installation a few times. Articles I have read have calculated a drive could last an average user between 20 and 50 years. No way the rest of my computer will last that long. At some point, I'll have to recycle the machine and move the drive to another. 

Ultimately, what I expect to get out of all this is worry free access to the web. I could have spent some money to buy another Chromebook; but, I already have a laptop that could be converted to a webtop, which is what I have, in effect, done. I expect to get another few years out of this old machine without additional investments.

UPDATE: When I wrote this, I was not aware of the specs for the drive. The standard Samsung 840 EVO only has 1,000 writes per cell. The Samsung 840 EVO Pro offers 3,000 to 5,000 writes per cell. There are some drives that cost way more and offer even more writes, up near 20,000. So, the 20 to 50 year estimate is for the Pro version. My version would rank somewhere near 7 years, which I still think is likely longer than the remainder of my laptop will last. 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I Just Can't Commit to Hybrid Drives

As the moonlighting computer tech that I am, I've both helped clients and personally experienced hard drive failures. It is a fact of life that within 5 years, a drive will likely die. In my experience, a small chunk fail right away and the rest fail within the 5 years. Beyond that 5 year period, your drive is living on borrowed time.

Enter Solid State Drives, aka SSDs. The current market for SSDs is a bit more expensive than your standard platter drives. For the same price as one TB SSD, you can buy several hard disk drives, or HDDs. The price of a 240 GB SSD is comparable to a 2 TB HDD.

Solid State Drives have an additional limitation, other than price, in that they have a finite number of writes per cell. You can only store a bit in an SSD cell so many times before it wears out. The drives are smart enough to spread the wear around evenly to avoid burning holes in your storage. But, they also inevitably fail, although for the average user this will take many years. For this reason, you are better off buying the largest SSD storage you can afford. This way you can spread the wear over more area, which adds up to a longer lifespan for the drive.

For some time, we have had hybrid drives that offer the best of both worlds. You get solid state chunks of your most frequently accessed files, which improves the speed of your computer. I forgot to mention earlier that SSDs can speed up your computer. So, after running your computer a few times with a hybrid drive in place, the drive will cache your most popular files for quicker access. Everything else lives on the HDD portion of the drive.

The problem that hybrids have, in my opinion, is that they offer the worst of both worlds. The SSD portion is too small, which all but guarantees you'll wear out the NAND cells that much faster. And, the HDD portion will either fail soon after installation, mostly within 5 years, or very soon after the fifth year, leaving the SSD portion wholly inadequate for your needs.

If I'm going to go SSD, I would need cloud storage to overcome the space limitations and leave tons of local storage available to reduce wear on the SSD. I think in this way I would extend the life of the drive significantly.

I think a hybrid drive would be used for a quick boost in speed; but, not necessarily for drive longevity. I would install an SSD on an old computer to extend its life, through faster booting and operation, a few more years. I would not want to sabotage those gains with a hybrid drive that would definitely fail again soon.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

In what direction is our entertainment evolving?

I find myself wondering in which direction entertainment is evolving. Except for the talent shows, my family does not indulge in much reality TV. We prefer things like Doctor Who, Game of Thrones, Supernatural, and other series. But, we also enjoy movies.

The Problem With Movies at the Theater

The problem we have with movies is that we are a family of five. Therefore, when we go out to the movies, it has to be one we are unanimously dying to see in order to spend $50 on tickets and another $40 on snacks. Economically, going to the theater kills the budget. We have to be very selective about what we watch on first run.

Where We Watch Movies

To overcome the expense problem, our family watches movies at discount theaters, which were once known as Dollar Cinemas. If we wait a couple months, we can watch movies at the theater for a fraction of the cost. We do this mostly in the summer months to get out of the heat during the daytime. 

We also watch movies on Netflix and Amazon Prime. These subscription services provide us with a large enough selection of older movies. Our children have not seen many of the movies available simply because they weren't born when they were released. So, that keeps them busy when they aren't watching kids shows.

Movie Rentals and Purchases

My family does not typically buy movies. We did in the past. However, storage becomes a problem. With the ease in which you can rent movies at Redbox or online, that has taken over our purchases. It is of little value to buy a digital copy of a movie when we know that it will be available on Netflix or Amazon Prime as part of the subscription in the future. Therefore, if we are anxious to watch, we simply rent the movie.

Not Just Movies

But, ordering online does not just apply to movies. We are also willing to buy an episode or a season of a show we enjoy. If the season is more than $20, we don't typically buy it. We prefer to buy episodes over several weeks. In this sense, movies and television episodes are of equal value in our household. If we are willing to pay, it's going to be good. 

I think what is key for us is that we don't always have to wait for videos to be added to subscription services. We can rent an episode within few days of airing rather than have to wait for reruns. I completely forgot to mention Hulu, which shows episodes soon after the original air date as part of their service.

Where Theaters May Bring Us Back

So, where to theaters fit in to our entertainment? Lately, we have been considering attending shows put on by Fathom Events. We live in a region with limited stage productions. It would be nice to go to a theater to watch professional live performances. I don't foresee it being a take-the-family type of activity. Rather, I think going to see live performances at movie theaters will be more like date night with my wife. 

When I first started writing this blog post, I was trying to compare movie rentals from today and yesteryear; but, the more I thought about it, little has changed. Sure, we no longer rent VHS tapes down at the video store; yet we still rent movies. There was the regular theater and there was also the dollar theater. We didn't have Netflix; but, there was HBO. 

In short, the basic premise has not changed. What is occurring is that our sources are shifting. Movie theaters took away audiences from stage plays. Now home entertainment is taking audiences away from theaters; but, I see theaters as bringing back live performances. 

Sure, you can watch a boxing fight through pay per view at home; but, you could also watch it on a big screen with surround sound. Or watch an opera. Or a concert. Or a comedy show. Rather than have to travel to the nearest metropolitan area to catch a live performance, you could simply drive down to your local theater and catch a performance. 

I don't think movie theaters will be in the decline. Rather, we should rethink what theaters can do. They have high definition, 3D, surround sound, and a generally better viewing experience than you can get at home or a bar.

The Home Television

Having purchased a Chromecast recently, our viewing has changed a little. As previously mentioned, we watch Netflix. But, in addition to that, we are now watching longer Youtube videos. The unofficial rule of web video has been that you don't make videos longer than 5 minutes, lest you lose your audience. I think this is true for smaller screens; but, not necessarily for your TV. 

On a television, you expect to sit down and watch for 30 minutes, an hour, or longer. It's not as tiring to watch longer videos on a television as it is on small screens. There is a certain degree to which you can multitask with a TV in the background. Whereas, on a computer or phone, you start getting antsy as messages come in or you want to type something up. These devices don't lend themselves to being single use items. Within 5 minutes, you are likely to get a call, text message, Facebook notice, or some other update that would take you away from a video. Whereas casting a video to your TV frees you to continue doing other stuff.

What this means is that you can queue up a bunch of Youtube videos in advance. It opens up a broader range of content than highly produced shows. Maybe you do want to watch cat home videos all day. We are no longer talking about web videos; we are moving to web television. 

What Kind of Content?

I think we'll continue to see plenty of free content that people slap together just because they can; and we will see content that is pay as you go. HBO is able to sink millions into creating original content. Netflix is getting into the content game. While these are subscription services, not pay as you go, they still prove the point that people are willing to pay for programming as much as they have been willing to buy movie tickets. 

Coming back to my situation, it isn't that my family does not willing to pay for entertainment, rather, we are not willing to pay so much for that form of entertainment. You can be certain that we watch movies eventually, either through rentals or through subscription. My family, and perhaps our current culture, assigns values to different types of content. 

Experiential Entertainment

There is theater content, rental content, subscription content, and free content. Each of us develops a rating system that determines where we will view our entertainment. The better the content, the higher the premium we'll pay to view it as an experience. I suppose, since the inception of movie rentals, we have had movies that are "straight to video", which refers to box office flops. Those movies may not have been so bad; but, they may not have merited sitting in a theater to watch them. Whereas, other movies demand the full theater experience.

So, perhaps it comes down to experiencing content? What kind of experience do we want a movie, a show, or live stream to be when we watch it?

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Mrs Mata

Mrs Mata agreed to pose after putting on makeup to go visit her parents.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Resurrecting My Windows XP Box

I find myself bringing an old computer that we have had since around 2006 back to life. I've had other drive crashes before, and managed to get most of my data back. This time, after the drive died, I decided to forsake Windows and live with a Chromebook and Android tablet.

I can get along OK, for the most part, without it. But, there are a few instances where I have no choice but to either have a PC or a Mac in operation. For example, if I want to edit RAW files from my camera, the software is written for PC/Mac. On the occasion that I go around fixing computers for money, sometimes I need another Windows computer to work some magic on client drives. Or to test hardware on a machine known to operate.

I can't use my wife's and daughter's computers without risking their computers getting infected or messed up with cruft in the long term. As much as I would like to declare myself free from the traditional desktop, I cannot.

Why not buy a new one? Stop it, you're killing me.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Working around no keyboard on a tablet

I finally got around to connecting a keyboard to my Nexus 7 tablet. This comes after spending the last week doing several Ubuntu installations that did not want to take on an old laptop. The ultimate goal was to have a faster way of typing than the touch screen on a tablet.

I think it would be cleaner to just spring for a bluetooth keyboard rather than shoehorn a keyboard and mouse in through the USB port.

Why the workaround? The laptop is old enough that it lags a bit even running Ubuntu. One grows accustomed to instant on and the speed of a tablet, and to some degree a Chromebook.

There are some projects that I have been delaying for want of a keyboard, ones which require writing...such as blogging. Tapping out long text is tedious, and the voice to text feature doesn't work too well when you have other people talking nearby.

I will keep the laptop for times when I know that I'll be sitting down to do work for several hours. I'll have the keyboard and mouse on standby for instances when I want to type out something quickly.

Now, it is time to work on a six year old computer that did not take a reinstall and is holding tons of photos and videos I did not back up. A new adventure.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Construction Zone

Io in a concrete box

At the end of the work day, public works crews leave the materials roadside. I suppose there are few people with the means to lift and transport them.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Tax Time In Da House!

I don't know what got into me tonight, I started working on my taxes for 2013. It all started simply enough, I got an email that a 1099 for my stocks was ready for download. Then I started downloading my 2013 Sales reports. Then I started downloading my 2013 Expenses.

Before you know it, I have spreadsheets open. I'm categorizing income and expenses, and getting everything ready for my accountant. Hey, wait a minute....why am I doing the work?

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Back on the Editorial Calendar

Have you ever had a situation where you know the right thing to do, but hesitate to make it happen? This has been my situation with respect to maintaining my several social media profiles. These aren't paid gigs, mind you. I've been weening myself from Social Media; but, don't really want to leave those properties hanging without updates. 

Yet, that's exactly what I've done. The proper thing to do would be to create an editorial calendar where I pick themes for certain days, weeks, or months, depending on the site. Basically, you schedule the subjects in advance so that you don't have to break your head thinking about what to write. 

So, with the help of Hootsuite, it is easy to schedule posts in advance. It is very easy and preferable to schedule posts because it frees you up to spend your time doing stuff that pays during working hours. You can devote the less busy hours to cramming posts in advance. 

Thus, I find myself scheduling posts for March 2014, tonight.