Archive for the ‘Administrative’ Category

New Server

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

This site has transitioned to an upgraded server. The transition should be transparent, but if anyone notices anything amiss, please comment!

An Editorial Note

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

It’s unusual that I will modify a post after it is written, but careful readers will note that Name That Ware June 2010 had some words changed. This is in response to a mismatch between Maker/hacker/DIY culture and mainstream perceptions. Apparently, referring to the Infocast frame as “hackable” has caused fear among some people who are interested in buying the product. They won’t buy products that are “hackable”, because they don’t want to get hacked; understandably, the intent that they are being enabled to be the hacker is lost. This is probably due to the evolution of the meaning of “hack” — mainstream media has associated the term “hack” with nefarious intent, whereas traditionally (and perhaps even archaically), “hack” simply refers to the clever or non-obvious use of a complex system.

Since the Infocast frame is marketed toward a mainstream audience, I hacked up the post below to swap out the word “hack” for “DIY-friendly” or “mod” as appropriate. Since it’s difficult to correct misconceptions about a product, if you do discuss the product, it would be nice if you referred to it as “DIY-friendly” instead of “hackable” to prevent further misunderstandings. But, then again, who am I to dictate what you write — it’s your words and your opinions, so take my request as a grain of salt.

Follow-up on the SSD

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

A while back I asked readers for some advice on a reliable SSD. One reader also corroborated my experience with a story of his own Crucial drive’s failure, and a number of readers had recommended an Intel-branded drive. However, some research on the net indicated that several people had reported an unusually high failure rate on Intel drives as well, which leads me to think that possibly Intel is just doing a very good job of marketing their solution (they are pretty good at pushing bad technology to early adopters…there was Rambus, and Itanium…not to mention that of all the ISA’s out there, x86 wouldn’t be the one I’d chose to be the dominant standard). Or, as one comment pointed out, SSD is just not mature right now and it should be avoided altogether if soft-reliability is a key concern (as opposed to a reliability concern due to dropping or vibration damage).

I did end up getting a full refund for my return of the failed Crucial drive, and instead bought a 2.5″ 256 GB Samsung SSD (MMDOE56G5MXP-0VB) at a relatively decent price. I didn’t see too many complaints on the net about the Samsung drive, and I’m hoping the fact that Samsung is 100% vertically integrated for SSD manufacture (they make the FLASH, DRAM, and embedded controller for their SSDs, unlike all their other competitors) gives them some institutional expertise about Flash technology that they’ve baked into their product (how naive of me). I’ve been running with this drive for about a month now, and it hasn’t failed yet (knock on wood). I’m currently at about 160 Gbytes used out of 231 available (this is also one of the reasons why I couldn’t use an Intel drive, its largest capacity of 160GB was too small and SSD’s perform very poorly if you fill them up to near capacity due to the mismatch between erase block size and the native block size of the filesystem).

The Samsung drive is benchmarked to run a bit slower than the Intel and Crucial solutions, and anecdotally there might be a tiny performance decrease compared to the failed Crucial drive, but the system overall is still blazingly fast (and it’s still working). Searching my filesystem is super-fast, and I no longer loathe opening a directory with thousands of files. Boot time is cut down to about 70% of what it was before, and key applications load and quit much faster running off an SSD.

More importantly, I can now walk around with my laptop without first needing to park the hard drive heads. I can use it on bumpy car rides in Asia, and I can brave through turbulence without fear of crashed heads. Another major bonus is I now feel no worry turning the volume up on my laptop when listening to music. The thought of intentionally channeling a high-amplitude vibration into my hard drive always disturbs me, so I rarely listen to music on my laptop speakers, or when I do I make sure it’s very quiet. It’s well-documented that acoustic vibration reduces hard drive performance (here’s a YouTube video of someone shouting at a drive array in a datacenter, causing the array to slow down), and from my understanding it can actually contribute to premature failure of the drive. So, overall, I’d have to say I’m quite pleased with the new SSD, although I am proceeding cautiously — I bought a 64 GB USB thumb drive and I backup my data fairly often in anticipation of the dreaded day when my system seizes up on me again. And, when it does, I will probably once again buy another SSD, hoping that as time goes on the technology will mature and become more reliable.

Advice on Reliable SSD Chipset?

Monday, November 9th, 2009

I spent the weekend transferring my data and applications to a new Crucial 256 GB M225 SSD, and after about 10 hours of operation, the hard drive simply failed. It failed while “hot” even — the hard drive lite jammed on, my MP3 stopped playing, and the system froze up — like my worst nightmare come true. How is this possible? It’s supposed to be solid state. It’s supposed to have greater than 1,000,000 hours MTBF. Yet, it’s true. No matter what laptop I put it into, I now simply get this on boot:

2100: HDD0 (Hard disk drive) initialization error (1).

The drive isn’t 100% dead per se. There is a little switch on the drive that puts it into configuration mode, and it will identify itself as a Yatapdong Barefoot device (instead of a Crucial device) in this mode. So presumably, the embedded controller is still alive and kicking, but even in this mode I can’t seem to reflash the drive’s firmware or re-initialize it to a state where the normal mode is functional. When I switch it back out of configuration mode, the BIOS refuses to enumerate the drive, and without enumeration I can’t even run a diagnostic on the device. It’s definitely not an OS issue — BIOS-level diagnostics simply refuse to recognize the drive.

Searching around in the Crucial Forum, it seems these drives “have a high failure rate”. So much for a million-hour MTBF. I’m not sure exactly what’s causing it, because it is entirely solid state, and the SMT process used to build these drives are a very robust and well-proven technology. My guess is it’s got something to do with the firmware or the controller chip; they already have three firmware releases out for this drive, and disturbingly you can reflash these from inside the native OS — seems like a great candidate method for deeply embedding malware into a PC. Well, hopefully I can just return this drive for a full refund, since it failed so quickly.

At any rate, I’m wondering if anyone can give some advice on a good, reliable brand of SSD to use. The few hours I did spend with the SSD were quite positive; the performance boost is excellent, and a large number of my common work applications greatly benefited from the extremely fast access times. I’m still a bit spooked by the idea that these drives can fail so easily, but then again, fundamentally if I were in a jam I am equipped with the tools to recover the data — these devices use simple TSOP flash memory, so I suppose in the worst case I could dump the ROMs. Fortunately this one failed young, so the quickest solution is to just return for a refund and try something else.

Poking around a bit on-line, it seems that this Crucial drive uses the same Indilinx controller and firmware as the OCZ Vertex, the Patriot Torx, and the Corsair Extreme series (based on the “Yatapdong Barefoot” ID in configuration mode). On Amazon.com, I can see other users are experiencing exactly the same issue with a Corsair Extreme Indilinx series device. So I think it’s safe to say I’d like to steer clear of a solution based on the Indilinx chipset, at least until this issue is patched — ironically, the Indilinx website’s motto is “Beyond the Spin” (who are these guys, Fox News?), but it seems to me like their website’s got a lot more spin than substance. A link to a datasheet or firmware spec would be nicer than the marketing fluff.

Thanks in advance for the advice!

Site Down — Note Changes

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

Site has been down for the past few hours because my poor little shared server can’t handle the slashdot traffic that has recently been pointed at my article on H1N1. On the one hand, I don’t have ads on this blog; on the other hand, it means I can’t afford a server strong enough to handle the occasional slashdot DoS.

I have reconfigured the permalinks and caching behavior in an attempt to bring it back up. If you encounter broken links to this site or if you observe strange behavior, I’d appreciate a note here as to what you are seeing. My impression is that this caching plugin causes the pages to look a little bit nasty at first when you load them when the server is under load, and eventually they get a bit prettier with all the images and backgrounds when things lighten up, but I could be wrong.

Thanks for your patience!

Update: post backlog limited to 5 posts and images removed from the latest name that wares to try and keep server load down. Will restore normal reading settings once the slashdot attack is over.

Update #2 (9/3): I thought the traffic would be down by now but my ISP is still recommending I keep the blog in lock-down with “ugly” pages and no images otherwise they might have to pull the plug again. I’m not particularly fond of tinkering around with the mechanics of wordpress, php and mySQL so I’m just going to hunker down and weather the storm for another couple of days.

Update #3 (9/5): Looks like traffic is down, I’m gradually re-enabling features of the blog. Hopefully, now if you see the blog it should look “pretty” i.e., the header is loading properly and the CSS is being served. I will try turning on images on the front page tomorrow if things are still going well. Thanks for your continued patience.

Update #4 (9/8): I think everything is back to normal after the holiday. Hi-res images should be back now. If you do see anything amiss, please do report it. The backlog of posts shown on the front page is trimmed to 5 instead of the usual 10.