Monday, April 24

hot or not?

I've been running SpeedFan on my XP boxes the past few days, to get a handle on how hot these CPUs should be running.

The maximum die temperature is part of AMD's Ordering Part Number; if I ever open the case and remove the heatsinks, I should expect to find a [V] in the 3rd-to-last position of the Athlon XP 3200+ (85°C) and a [T] in the 3rd-to-last position of the others (90°C).

The temperatures I measured for my systems were:
34 AMD Duron - 800 MHz (90°C)
41 AMD Athlon XP 3200+ (85°C)
63 AMD Sempron 3000+ (90°C)

The good news is that I'm not even close to roasting any of the CPUs. Comparing (and benchmarking) CPUs often isn't easy; if you're in need of a cheap thrill, take a peek at Sempron vs. Athlon XP and learn the subtle nuances between the various processor families, including the socket configurations. {yawn} I think I need a nap.
Deep thought:
Gene Bob's ideal operating temperature is 20°C (68°F).
BTW (for you thrill-seekers), it turns out my PC problem last week was due to a faulty DIMM (memory stick) .. it operated normally most of the time, but would burp on occasion, causing endless grief. Since my last backup was corrupted, I'm enjoying the glee that's part of installing the applications from CD, applying the patches and recovering the datafiles from the last good backup - in mid-February. It's not awful; I can't think of anything that I can't reconstruct without minimal work.

Sunday, April 23

last-minute theatre

I got a little culture today, sorta. With 30 minutes before the show, my phone rings. Judy-Bob wants to know if I can meet her at the WaterTowerTheatre (at the Addison Theatre Centre) for a play.

"Oh, is that today?", I whimper.

(frosty) "Yes. Now get over here!".

Thus began my journey to see
Dishing it Out .. written and performed by Paul J. Williams

One actor playing six characters in a cafeteria. Starting with a food server who seems to know everybody who comes through her line, each of these people inevitably become the other characters in the show, as we get a glimpse into the daily goings on of the lunchtime patrons of this Southern gathering place.
This cast of characters (in a one-man show) was all about Luby's, which is as pure a Texas tradition as there is, if'n you ain't gonna count Whataburger. Okay, okay .. so I was mildly entertained. Anyone who can perform a one-act, one-man, one-hour play in front of 75 people on a Sunday afternoon gets my approval. You could tell that several audience members had seen Paul J. Williams' work before, and were comfortable as he turned to the crowd for some ad-lib action.

While I had an immediate hankerin' for a real visit to Luby's (a place I have yet to visit, along with it's competitor Furr's), The Rest of The Gang wanted Mongolian BBQ, so we moseyed over to Genghis Grill and relaxed in the near-emptiness of a 4pm Sunday tea-fest. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon, I reckon.

Saturday, April 22

now ain't that phat?

What a way to spend a Saturday. Inside the Dallas Convention Center with 600 people I'd never met before (well, except for Mayor Laura). This was part of Shaping America's Health .. the next seven hours in a surprisingly fast-moving 21st Century Town Meeting® called Shaping America's Youth.

Turns out this is the 2nd one of these ever held. The first was in Memphis, earlier this year. Dallas had over 1046 registrants but only 600 made it to the event. I guess that's a good turnout, especially on one of the 4 nice weekends in Dallas every year (otherwise it's too hot/wet/cold).

The meeting itself was reasonably hi-tech. Each table (10 people) had a Mac iBook connected on a wireless network to a Think Tank near the stage. As we Solved World Hunger, our ideas were passed to this group which cut-and-pasted them into a presentation, offering near-immediate gratification.

The session leaders were David Campt and Julia Sullivan; they did a commendable job staying on their feet the entire time. Many of the attendees (37%) were Hispanic; several accepted the offer of earpieces for a Spanish translation (see also: Avance Dallas). We were handed wireless "voting gadgets" which had a USB interface at the top; the thing was called an "OpinionCounterIQ" (sadly, I didn't think to take a photo of it).

Random stuff:
0- Texas is the 6th fattest state; 63% of Texans are overweight or obese.
1- 35% of school-age children are overweight or obese; only 11% attend PE [Physical Education] classes.
2- David Campt (session leader) said that overweight Americans will die 19 years early, on average.
3- an upcoming TV show is due to be broadcast here on May 27th (channel 11); "The Biggest Generation" will be a good thing to TiVo.
4- Coming soon (April 27th): Bike & Walk to School day. Yeah, like parents will leave their SUVs at home to escort Junior to school. Right.
5- The Cooper Institute has program called "Promoting healthy behaviors in children"

Other speakers:
6- Bradie James (a Dallas Cowboy);
7- Alex Wolens - the mayor's 15-year old daughter;
8- Terry Wade regarding Marathon Kids (Richardson ISD);
9- Dr LeAnn Kridelbaugh, of the Dallas Area Coalition to Prevent Childhood Obesity (probably an offering of Children's Medical Center of Dallas)

Friday, April 21

setting the dust bunnies free

I think the FedEx package from HP arrived Wednesday morning; I've lost track of time this week. The package contains the 7 CDs that comprise the HP PC System Recovery set for their Pavilion PC running Windows XP. Why they didn't just burn a single DVD is beyond me, but I suspect someone at HP thinks that swapping CDs every 3 minutes during a system restore is someone's idea of Great Fun.

Anyway, I tried and tried, and finally threw up my hands and took that PC into the repair shop, figuring they have better diagnostic toys than I. Indeed, the nice CSR [Customer Service Rep] -- who wasn't from Bangalore! -- said they use a piece of diagnostic software called "Lysol" to do a disc format .. I should know more in 24 hours. To me, it just smells like an NT filesystem that went south. Less likely #1: a hard disc that suddenly decided to go to Mexico for Spring Break. Less likely #2: a disc controller failure.

The symptoms were that I could load all 7 CDs onto the D: partition without any errors, but when it then tried to install that code onto the C: partition, I'd get lots of extraction errors. Sometimes it would fail with "The following file is missing/corrupt". Othertimes it would Blue Screen on me, and I'd get something more sinister: "A problem has been detected and Windows has been shut down to prevent damage to your computer".

I stuffed one of the error messages (IRQL_NOT_LESS_OR_EQUAL) into Google and it said it was a sure sign of a CPU going bad, and that a shiny new heatsink would Fix Me Right Up. Um .. I've learned not to trust Everything I Read On The Internet. So, I entered the BIOS and ran the temperature diag and it said 61C, which is well within normal range for an Athlon XP 3200+ (start worrying when it's beyond 85C apparently). Also, both fans (CPU and system) were running - 2812 RPM for one; 1188 for another.

Hmm .. maybe the memory? I have two identical 1GB DIMMs, so I removed one, then swapped in the other .. no difference. Each time required a 24-minute ordeal of loading those 7 CDs onto D: and then watching the extraction fail on a different file.

Aside #-3: I find it amusing/sad that the Windows Recovery Process makes no-zero-nada attempt at a thorough disc diagnosis. It performs what appears to be a cursory reformat of the D: partition and not much more. There's no BIOS-level reformat, nothing which would've allowed me to cure this in the sanctity of my own home. Perhaps there's a piece of diag code on the disc controller itself, but that's one of the various ASICs on the motherboard, and not a discrete PCI board which is easily swapped.

Aside #0: the CSR laughed when she saw my neatly labeled Ziploc(tm) bag with 7 CDs inside. XP itself only really needs 2 of those, apparently, since other PC OEMs make do with that. The remaining 5 CDs are all the application software (AOL, MS-Money, etc.) that HP loads onto a new PC. There's no provision for
"(x) load the Windows XP code without all the crap I don't want"

Aside #3: when I first started work on this PC, I found a small colony of dust bunnies living inside the box. Actually, it wasn't bad, but my can of Compressed Air made it look all bright and shiny inside. Even so, I missed the slots for the removable media that I never use (SmartMedia, Sony MemoryStick, etc) and scraped a bit when I got the PC into the sunlight, for the first time since it came to live with me.

Aside #6: I started running SpeedFan on another PC, which is a freeware program to monitor CPU temperature, fan speed etc. from a running Windows box. Every one of my systems runs at a different temperature, so I'll have to learn their personalities so I can spot future problems in that area.

Aside #9: Indeed, the most recent backup (after I started noticing system problems) is corrupt. The last full backup before that is about 5 weeks old, so I'll restore from that when my PC's back up-and-running. I'll lose a few emails and a few weeks worth of Quicken entries (unless Checkfree's smart enough to understand that when I sync the data). It'll be easier to load the application software from CD, in most cases, then restore only the datafiles. It'll be a Royal PITA and take a day or more. Still, it could've been a lot worse.

Wednesday, April 19

Knock-knock. Who's there? Fascist.

In the past few days, I've noticed an unusual number appearing on CallerID: 214-000-0000. It's not a number that can be called back, and a quick Google shows that it's my friends from the CFRP (Fascist Republicans) trying to convince me that President Quagmire isn't a complete moron, that we should be proud of Him and His Regime, etc. It's a good thing I have an open mind.

So far, I've tried answering that call twice, but no one's ever on the other end. It smells like one of those automated dialers that calls/annoys me, then hands it off to a pseudo-human (hey, I said they were Republicans) for their propaganda pitch.

Unrelated: Slashdot article about End User License Agreements:
Making Sense of Software EULAs. For the past few months, I've been saving the various EULAs that I'm forced to blindly accept before software will install. The EULAlyzer has been entertaining and even occasionally insightful. I wonder how many teraquads of EULAs they've amassed since bringing this software online? (it optionally forwards a copy of the EULA to them for safe-keeping).

Tuesday, April 18

the great crashes of April 2006

Here's the "Error Reporting" window in Microsoft's Windows XP; it's what I've seen about 15 times a day for the past 5 days or so. I guess it's time to bite the bullet and reload Windows XP from scratch. Well, at least I have a current backup (unless it's corrupted).

6pm update: I tried creating a System Recovery DVD using the files on the D: partition, but that didn't work. I kept getting a message:

HP PC Recovery CD/DVD Creator
Error in media surface verification

which supposedly pointed to inferior DVD media. I tried 3 different name brands of DVD+R media: TDK (8x); Philips (16x) and even HP's own brand (8x), and got the same error. Using the WTH (What The Heck) Rule, I tried doing a restore using these DVDs, but got too many error messages to ensure a viable system.

So .. I called HP Tech Support, got "Danny" (in Bangalore) and ordered the DVD from them for $12*. I swear he told me it would be here on April 12th (twice) so it must be a Language Barrier Thing. It'll arrive when it arrives, just not 6 days in the past.

6:30pm update: Although "Danny" said $12, I see they charged $23.85 on my credit card. Must be extra charges related to sales tax and shipping. Further, the online confirmation says
"Shipping Method: FED-EX NEXT DAY (10:30AM)" and (elsewhere)
"Expected Delivery Date: 04/24/2006" (Monday)
Deep thought (8:30pm): there's a bit of chatter about a patch - "Security Update for Windows XP (KB908531)" that Microsoft issued last week. Apparently it's causing all sorts of grief on systems that were grief-free before then. Hmm .. this sounds suspiciously like my problem. Wonder if Bill Gates will reimburse me the $23.85?

And .. speaking of crashes .. this arrived at work today:
As a result of the temperatures being higher than normal this time of year, the power generation plants and grids are being overloaded. During this time of year the power generation plants have a percentage of their plants down for maintenance to prepare for the summer months. Given the 100 degree temperatures we hit yesterday and expect to hit today, ERCOT (Electrical Reliability Council Of Texas) has given the order for rolling power outages to decrease loads on power generation plants. We could experience these outages today and if needed will happen between 2pm and 7pm and last approximately 15 minutes.

Monday, April 17


At the time, I didn't know I was part of a conspiracy .. but now I know.

At about 5:30pm today, the electricity went out. Tonight, I see a Dallas Managed News article that says ERCOT was forcing rolling blackouts on us because the high temperature (101F) meant a lot of us were using the air conditioning, while TXU had many generators offline for Spring Cleaning.

Fortunately, all my computers are on UPS and were automagically shut down (although the HP Pavilion - which has suddenly become Ultra Flaky, apparently due to a bad video device driver) didn't need the excitement.

a view of APC's PowerChute after today's rolling blackout.

Apparently I was lucky, and only had a 5-minute outage. Some of the comments on the DMN's website said power was off 45 minutes for some folks.

Sunday, April 16

long calculator session avoided

while so many others were scrambling this weekend, I spent about 5 seconds calculating my 2005 taxes. income = 0, hence taxes = 0. maybe next year?

Sunday, April 9

bad day to get your car washed

I'm guessing the fast food places had long lines today, due to the all the illegals calling in sick. There are plans to repeat this "protest" on Monday, May 1st.

data point #1: The NCTCOG* says the Metroplex population is over 6.2 million.

data point #2: Dallas Police say 350,000 to 500,000 people marched downtown today.

Personally, I seriously doubt the DPD can count correctly. Regardless, I presume the majority were Mexicans, who crossed the border without bothering to complete the paperwork. No word on how many of the 350,000+ boarded trains at Union Station, for a free ride back to Mexico.
* North Central Texas Council of Governments
It's a pity nobody every bothered enforcing the Immigration Reform & Control Act of 1986, which has been on the books since the Dark Days of the Reagan Amnesty Program. It makes it illegal to hire an illegal .. maybe the double negative was interpreted as a positive?

battle of the RSS readers

Every six months or so (it seems) I nose around .. looking for a better RSS reader. I keep returning to SharpReader; certainly, there's personal taste involved. This time, I decided to pit the incumbent against the native RSS reader in Mozilla Thunderbird, and an extension to Mozilla Firefox called Wizz.

I look for a few things in any RSS reader: how easy is it to ...

0- "wipe the slate clean" (Mark All Read, either within a category, or for all blogs)?
1- import an OPML file and expect it to preserve the categories?
2- look for new items in only one category?
3- read an item without having to load the original HTML (with all the graphics)?
4- order categories one way (interest level), but items within a category another way (alphabetical)?
5- set a default interval for polling (per category, per blog, new subscriptions)?

There are more, but these are the ones that hit me in the face. Although the new stuff in Mozilla is nice, I think I'll stick with SharpReader. The devil's in the details, as usual.

Mozilla Thunderbird:
File/New/Account/RSS News & Blogs

Thunderbird's native RSS reader needs work .. what can I say? When I imported my OPML file from SharpReader, it made no effort to preserve the sections. That was a major PITA .. the OOTB (out of the box) experience sucked. For that reason alone, it was enough to give it a solid D. Not many options to tweak, either. Next? 

Mozilla Firefox:
Tools/Extensions/Get More/Wizz RSS News Reader

Wizz makes good use of the default icons, but doesn't aggregate the items within a section. That's probably okay if you only read a few blogs, but when you group them into sections, the UI falls apart. I give it a solid B, because the only thing I really didn't like was the inability to quickly "Scan all blogs for new items". Maybe that's buried in a menu somewhere, and I just didn't spot it. 


SharpReader is compact WRT screen real estate. Clicking on an item loads the HTML if desired (the others make HTML the only way to read an item). Grudgingly, I give it an solid A- (mainly because there aren't enough options to tweak for my personal taste).

Big wishes: that they'd all use (a) the same file to mark what items I've read, as well as (b) what feeds I'm subscribing to. Sure, I could use an online tool like Bloglines, but the issue's the same : none of them have any knowledge of the others.

Monday (10/4/6) update: turns out there's at least one place where you can sync your RSS feeds; the only downside is that you have to use their RSS reader. Heck, it's a start. The site is

Saturday, April 8

over 1 million points served

I've been running the UD Agent for over 4 years on my oldest PC, and I just noticed that I bypassed one million points on/about January 21st. I'm currently at 1,082,944 points* and adding 1,070 more each day, running three instances of the UD Agent. Pity this software doesn't run on anything except MS-Windows. It's quite unobtrusive, but I wish they'd make a tweak to the way it handles proxies. One of my PCs goes that route part of the week, and the UD Agent isn't smart enough to bypass the proxy when the VPN is disabled. I have other software that is smart enough to look for alternatives when the network connection fails.
* 583,753 since joining The Team
The active projects haven't changed in awhile: United Devices Cancer Research and Human Proteome Folding. I wonder how much of the data from earlier, now completed projects (United Devices Cancer Research Project, Phase I; Smallpox Research Grid Project; United Devices Anthrax Research Project) was found to be useful?

A few years ago, I was asked to join a team; now there are 45 active members, and I've moved up to 6th place in Points, and 9th in Results. I wonder when I can expect my Certificate of Achievement in the smail (snail mail).
 Reference architectureProcessorMemoryStorageNetwork
100"High-end Desktop System"
(Pentium IV)
1.5 GHz384 MB5 GB1.54 Mbps
and then my 3 instances in comparison:
124AMD Duron0.8 GHz512 MB10 GB2.68 Mbps
205AMD Sempron 3000+2.0 GHz1 GB10 GB2.68 Mbps
220AMD Athlon XP 3200+2.2 GHz2 GB10 GB2.68 Mbps

Friday, April 7

`cause I'm a follower

Thanks to Trish-Bob for the inspiration for this post

Go to Wikipedia and look up your birth day (excluding the year). List three neat facts/events, two births and one death in your journal, including the year.

- 1609 - Henry Hudson lands on Manhattan island.
- 1776 - British-American peace conference on Staten Island fails to stop nascent American Revolution.
- 1970 - The Ford Pinto is introduced.

- 1924 - Tom Landry, American football coach
- 1965 - Moby, American musician

- 1971 - Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev, Soviet politician and leader (b. 1894)

Bonus fact:

It is usually the first day of the Coptic calendar and Ethiopian calendar (in the period AD 1900 to AD 2099).

Monday, April 3

this just in ...

CBS News reports:
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texan touched by a lobbying scandal that ensnared some of his former top aides and cost the congressman his leadership post, won't seek re-election to Congress, a Republican official said.
To say that I am shocked is an understatement. The ONLY thing I can imagine is that someone finally found the movie clip of DeLay in a compromising situation with a barnyard animal, and rather than face the possibility of this making its way to FOX "News", DeLay chose to resign.

Honestly, it would take something of that magnitude to force Hot Tub Tom (a former bug exterminator) to make such a move. I wonder if we'll ever know for sure?

Sunday, April 2

Immigration 101

There weren't many cars in the movie theatre parking lot when I arrived today; I wonder if it's because a lot of people hadn't yet Sprung Forward?

The film I saw (at the Angelika) was The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada; it's a great independent film that won't get a lot of screens because it personalizes the immigration issue, and it's so much easier just treating the illegals as faceless/nameless pack animals.

Warning: this movie is not recommended for disciples of Rush Limbaugh, or any of the various Fristian sects (including Coulterites), since it requires that your minds be open to alternate viewpoints.

Saturday, April 1

The Nuevo Berlin Wall

Today (after my dim sum breakfast) I moseyed over to a nearby mall to buy some shirts. Later, I noticed that all of them bear "Made In China" labels. Hoy, en el centro de compras, la única lengua que oí era Español. ¡Esto estaba en Sears - no el Fiesta Mart! And They say immigration isn't a problem. I feel sorry for the children, when it's obvious their parents make no effort to transition them to English.

I was mildly amused at the student protests that spontaneously erupted earlier this week; most of the students are Americans, born to illegals who crossed the Rio Grande a few years ago. The ones who stormed Dallas City Hall got the most local media attention, reminding me just a little of the Los Angeles Riots (before I moved here in 1993). At least they didn't set fire to anything - yet.

If Senator (and soon-to-be President) Bill Frist gets His way, the parents will be put in railcars back to Mexico, on the other side of the Nuevo Berlin Wall we're building to keep them from coming back. I just hope he misses a few, so there will be enough of them to be our cooks, gardeners, maids and carwash attendants for the foreseeable future.