Thursday, December 20, 2007

Electricity Situation Gets Worse

Eskom asked for an 18% price increase, and has been given 14%. So much for the government protecting the consumer or caring about business.
How we have to put up with "load shedding" (i.e the power goes off for 2 hours in randomy selected suburbs) and free electricity to Zimbabwe as well as higher prices and general technical incompetence. Fires at generating plants and substations are usually caused by poor maintenance or obsolete equipment. One fire resulted in the loss of 500MW generating capacity. Then there was the Koeberg debacle which saw rolling blackouts happening for months.
How can this problem be solved? Some people blame it on bad decisions, others blame it on affirmative action leading to the employment of inexperienced engineers. I say that whatever the cause, our current leadership will blame it on Apartheid and do nothing else. It's a failure of power, plain and simple. That's why I think it is appropriate to drop the "e" from their logo. It better reflects what the public feels about them shedding their responsibilities.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Charismatic Dimwit

It seems to me that our country is generally run by a*s*holes, and this has been going on for decades, with one notable exception: Nelson Mandela. All the other presidents in my lifetime have been a national embarrassment. I include in this lineup notable disasters like BJ Vorster, PW Botha (the absolute worst that Africa can offer), FW de Klerk and Thabo Mbeki.
If PW and FW had their way, I would have spent time in gaol. So much for them and their "volk and vaderland" which never included white South Africans who didn't speak Afrikaans, and it was always debatable how many Afrikaners it included anyway. I still have difficulty singing "Die Stem" as part of the national anthem, but it's something I'll get over.
Mandela was a great president, even if he did allow thousands to die of AIDS while he was President, and largely ignored the question of crime. At least he did something about AIDS later, hence 46664. His successor, Thabo Mbeki, made all the right noises, changed the way government is structured, but never got a grip on the real issues. Instead he surrounded himself with incompetent dolts like the Minister of Health, who succeeded in screwing up the health system pretty successfully. I always thought she was just holding out for a bribe, but it turned out to be far worse.
So when the ABM movement started (this time it stood for Anything But Mbeki, not Anything But Microsoft) it wasn't because of outrage over health or electricity, but because a charismatic dimwit wasn't properly prosecuted and was allowed to engage in unprotected sex while being the head of the "Moral Regeneration Movement" [cough!]. Or something. As someone once said, "the rabble wants to be roused".
I guess poor people are sick of being given promises that aren't met. So they elected someone who made even bigger promises, while building a big mansion and accepting financial contributions. Go figure. I guess this just proves what American politics has taught us for some time: democracy is where the majority gets what the majority deserves. America got 8 years of George Bush. We've got Mbeki and now we're getting Zuma. Nothing changes, really.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Benchmarks*: Puran Defrag 4.0

Puran Defrag 4.0 was released recently. You can find a review of version 3, and the test results are shown below. It's results are impressive, and much better than I expected, and better than version 3.
The graph shows Puran Defrag 4 (PD4) in dark blue, and the results from Windows XP in light blue. The first test is at the bottom, and shorter lines mean faster times.
  • "Basic XP" refers to the standard install, without Office 2007, so there are only 710 files to be tested.
  • "Defrag" refers to the read times of the same 710 files, after two defrag passes using the full PD4 boot time defrag, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. A 17.3% performance improvement is measured.
  • "Defrag+Auto" refers to the read time after enabling both the "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then allowing Windows to optimise the placement of system files. After this a further boot time defrag is done, with no additional options. An improvement of 32.6% is recorded, 8.1% faster than WDD.
  • "XP+Auto" is the result obtained after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and then running WDD, i.e. the best that Windows XP can manage.
  • "Basic Office" refers to the read time of all 802 test files, where no defragmentation has been done whatsoever, after the installation of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (Trial).
  • "Full Defrag" refers to the read times of the same 802 files, after a full boot time defrag with all options enabled, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. A 27.6% performance improvement is measured, as good as the Office Auto result below..
  • "Full Defrag+Auto" refers to the read time after enabling both the "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then allowing Windows to move the system files around. After that a simple boot time defrag, with no additional options, was run. An improvement of 32.3% is recorded, 6.2% faster than WDD.
  • "Office Auto" is the result obtained by allowing Windows XP to do its own defrag after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions.
The performance improvement ranges between 17% and 32%, with an improvement when the boot optimize information is used.
An average 27.4% performance improvement over no defrag at all is excellent for a $24.95/$14.95 (special offer) commercial package, beating all the other "heavy hitter" commercial programs tested so far. In most cases it works as well as or better than the built-in windows defrag. It also has an optional automatic defrag that is really not intrusive at all, and some other useful features. The only thing "missing" is a file placement display. The picture at the top of this article is a composite of two "Analyse" screen shots, one taken after installing Office 2007, and the other taken after the final test, effectively showing before and after situations.
The next test candidate is UltraDefrag 1.2.3

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Puran Defrag 4.0 special offer

The guys at Puran Software are celebrating the release of Puran Defrag 4.0 by dropping the price for a limited time: US$ 14.95, a saving of $10 on the regular price. Even at the higher price it's worth it; this is a bargain!
I have been testing the new version for two weeks, and its brilliant. The boot time defrag goes a good job of tidying up the drive and consolidating free space, and the automatic defrag works pretty well. There are a bunch of small features that I like, such as the ability to do a defrag of a particular file or folder by right-clicking on it. Also, you can do a complete defrag followed by a shutdown, which is useful in an office environment. Just start the defrag and go home. It even runs chkdsk first, as a safety measure. This product is well engineered and the help file is clear and informative.
I plan to publish the benchmarks shortly: most of the delays are out of the way now. I suspect that the price drop has something to do with the outstanding success of their cricket team, but I'm only guessing. ;-)
Update 1 Jan 2008: the special offer price is now $19.95

Benchmarks*: Norton Utilities Speed Disk 19.0.1.8

It's sad to see an old faithful program come to such a tragic end. Version 19 of Speed Disk is part of a humongous bloatware package from Symantec that requires around 300MB of free space just for the install files, unless you do the install directly from the CD. I tried the trial version of the Basic Edition of Norton SystemWorks (ironic, the name) that costs $49.95, and includes Norton Antivirus (NAV) and a whole load of other stuff. I avoided installing the NAV software because I didn't want it to slow the system down. It has been known to turn perfectly respectable machines into clunkers in a matter of minutes. Even the budget version of this package is more expensive than Diskeeper Professional. Sadly, it offers very little in terms of performance. The final defrag test ended up being slower than no defrag at all, and the average improvement was only 4% faster than no defrag, hardly justifying the expense.
The graph shows Norton Speed Disk (NSD) in dark blue, and the results from Windows XP in light blue. The first test is at the bottom, and shorter lines mean faster times.
  • "Basic XP" refers to the standard install, without Office 2007, so there are only 710 files to be tested.
  • "Defrag" refers to the read times of the same 710 files, after two defrag passes using NSD, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. No performance improvement is measured at all.
  • "Auto+Layout.ini" refers to the read time after enabling the "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then running NSD after Windows had done is standard boot optimise. An improvement of 14.1% is recorded, still slower than WDD.
  • "XP+Auto" is the result obtained after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and then running WDD, i.e. the best that Windows XP can manage.
  • "Basic Office" refers to the read time of all 802 test files, where no defragmentation has been done whatsoever, after the installation of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (Trial).
  • "Full Defrag" refers to the read times of the same 802 files, after two defrag passes using NSD, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. A 17.2% performance improvement is measured, the best result obtained.
  • "Full+Layout.ini" refers to the read time after enabling the "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then running NSD several times. An improvement of -14.2% is recorded, much slower than WDD.
  • "Office Auto" is the result obtained by allowing Windows XP to do its own defrag after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions.
The performance improvement ranges between -14% and 17%, with mixed improvement when the layout.ini information is used. NSD has no way of enabling or disabling this feature in Windows. Judging by the drive image at the top of this entry, the program is unable to move numerous files (notice all the grey blocks at the bottom), and the pink area at the top of the image is supposed to be the MFT reserved space, but isn't. It's a mess, and it takes forever to run the defrag.
An average 4.3% performance improvement over no defrag at all is extremely disappointing for a $49.99 commercial package, lagging way behind all other programs tested. The program seems to be unaware of the built-in Windows optimisation, or the placement of the MFT reserved space. Frankly, it's a disaster and an embarrassment to Symantec. Judging by the marketing information associated with Norton SystemWorks they already know this, and refer to defragmentation only in passing. Sad.

Monday, December 03, 2007

JkDefrag GUI turns 1.00

It's simple to install, easy to use, and powerful. It's only 3,477,010 bytes in size, and its the GUI created by Emiel Wieldraaijer for the JkDefrag program by Jeroen kessels. It speaks several languages, and makes it really easy for both power users and novices to use JkDefrag.
If you're a "current version" junkie then you'll love its "Check for Updates" feature, which will update either the GUI or the version of JKD, if either has changed. I like it. It's simple, powerful and intuitive. Download it here.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Benchmarks*: Disktrix UltimateDefrag 1.72

I have reviewed a previous version of UltimateDefrag 1.72, and posted the results of testing here. This has been the most complex of all the products to benchmark, because of the bewildering array of file placement options. The results show a representative cross-section of these options, using default values wherever possible. I have no explanation why the basic WDD results are faster, but these are still raw results.
The graph shows UltimateDefrag 1.72 (UD) in dark blue, and the results from Windows XP in light blue. The first test is at the bottom, and shorter lines mean faster times. The magenta lines are the results obtained using each of the main file placement options.
  • "Basic XP" refers to the standard install, without Office 2007, so there are only 710 files to be tested.
  • "Defrag Only" refers to the read times of the same 710 files, after two defrag passes using the UD "defragment only" option, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. A 17.3% performance improvement is measured.
  • "Consolidate" refers to the UD "Consolidate" option, which returned a 3.1% performance improvement.
  • "File Sort" refers to the UD "File/Folder" option, which returned a 15.1% performance improvement.
  • "Recency" refers to the UD "Recency" (Date Modified) option, which returned a 13.9% performance improvement.
  • "Volatility" refers to the UD "Volatility" option, which returned a 11.5% performance improvement.
  • "Auto" refers to the UD "Auto" option, which returned a 16.7% performance improvement.
  • "Auto+Layout.ini" refers to the read time after enabling both the "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then running UD Auto with "respect Layout.ini" enabled. An improvement of 9.1% is recorded, still slower than WDD.
  • "XP+Auto" is the result obtained after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and then running WDD, i.e. the best that Windows XP can manage.
  • "Basic Office" refers to the read time of all 802 test files, where no defragmentation has been done whatsoever, after the installation of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (Trial).
  • "Full Defrag Only" refers to the read times of the same 802 files, after two defrag passes using the UD "defragment only" option, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. A 13.6% performance improvement is measured.
  • "Consolidate" refers to the UD "Consolidate" option, which returned a 18.3% performance improvement.
  • "File Sort" refers to the UD "File/Folder" option, which returned a 16.5% performance improvement.
  • "Recent Access" refers to the UD "Recency" (Date Last Accessed) option, which returned a 21.1% performance improvement.
  • "Recent Modified" refers to the UD "Recency" (Date Modified) option, which returned a 22.7% performance improvement.
  • "Recent Created" refers to the UD "Recency" (Date Created) option, which returned a 16.6% performance improvement.
  • "Volatility" refers to the UD "Volatility" option, which returned a 23.2% performance improvement.
  • "Auto" refers to the UD "Auto" option, which returned a 20.1% performance improvement.
  • "Auto+Layout.ini" refers to the read time after enabling both the "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then running UD Auto with "respect Layout.ini" enabled. An improvement of 21.0% is recorded, still slower than WDD.
  • "Office Auto" is the result obtained by allowing Windows XP to do its own defrag after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions.
The performance improvement ranges between 3% and 23%, with no noticeable improvement when the layout.ini information is used.
An average 16.2% performance improvement over no defrag at all is a little disappointing for a $39.95 commercial package, lagging behind the other "heavy hitter" commercial programs. Still, dedicated performance junkies can tweak the myriad options to their hearts content until they get the results they desire.
The image here is for the second "Volatility" option. Notice how the file placement is completely different to the "Auto" option at the top of the article.
The next package to be tested is Puran Defrag 4.0, which has just been released.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

SMS Free Software Updated

There's nothing like customer problems to show up missing features or weaknesses in my SMSQ software. A driver was interfering with the GSM modem on one system, so I added "Monitoring Messages" that get sent out on a predefined basis, like every hour during the day. They were so punctual that I could almost set my watch using them, and they helped isolate the problem.
Then one of my largest customers had the SIM card for their GSM modem suspended by Autopage, their cell phone company. This effectively blocked the sending of 2000 appointment reminder messages the first day, and when it was repeated the second day 992 messages were blocked before we picked it up. Needless to say Autopage is a really popular supplier with this client right now.
Catching up the backlog of messages caused me to add a "start time" and "end time" to the package, to prevent messages being sent at rude times, like the early hours of the morning. I also added the ability to read the entire message that was being sent or received, which helps to ensure that the system is working correctly. SMSQ is freeware, and uses an Access database to store the messages.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Benchmarks*: Why the Asterisk?

You may have noticed that all the "benchmark" results posted have an asterisk next to them. Why?
The main reason is that these results are preliminary. I am publishing them on this blog as they arrive, in the order they arrive, and asking for comment. This is to avoid any accusation of "cooking" the results to favour a particular product. They are interesting in and of themselves, but they don't prove anything.
The second reason is that they are incomplete. The tests measure the "read time" of 800 files, all listed in the layout.ini file in Windows XP. These are not user data files, and don't tell you what you are likely to experience when using your PC on a regular basis. The comments received will assist in developing additional benchmark tests, in order to arrive at a more complete picture.
Some of the comments and criticisms received are valid and need to be taken seriously. One of the criticisms is that the timing program itself may be generating inaccurate results, and its one I am checking out as carefully as possible.
Another problem is that I do not know how accurate these results are: i.e. how does one calculate the critical margin of error? Is it 0.1%, 1% or 10%? Clearly this would make a big difference to how the results should be interpreted.

I therefore urge all readers not to base any purchasing decisions on these results until all the testing has been completed. In the meantime, try the products for yourself, because your experience may be completely different to the test machine.

MTN's Marketing Incompetence Again

MTN is my cell phone company, and it probably has the worst marketing division on the planet. They also break the law on a regular basis. Today I got a call from a rude man on 083-212-4311 who was promoting MTN Banking. All I can say is if that's the kind of service you get from MTN Banking, rather deal with a real bank.
I understand that MTN and Standard Bank are large organisations, but surely they have a method in place whereby they can comply with the law? I have tried on numerous occasions to tell both Standard Bank and MTN not to call me. Today I tracked down the Company Secretary for MTN, and asked for her help. You can call MTN Head Office on 011 912 3000, which is an exercise in communications itself. I have also contacted the marketing department of Standard Bank, and the help line for MTN Banking. Perhaps a combination of these will help. Until they call again. I wonder if it would help if I took them to court? Mmm ...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Benchmarks*: JkDefrag 3.28

You can find a review of the GPL freeware JkDefrag program (JKD), as well as the benchmark results obtained. You can download this version in an easy setup format. The version used for testing is 3.28, but newer ones are available.
The graph shows JkDefrag 3.28 (JKD) in dark blue, and the results from Windows XP in light blue. The first test is at the bottom, and shorter lines mean faster times. The magenta lines are the results obtained after running JKD from a BartPE environment, which allows the page file and other system files to be moved.
  • "Basic XP" refers to the standard install, without Office 2007, so there are only 710 files to be tested.
  • "Defrag" refers to the read times of the same 710 files, after two defrag passes using the JKD default defrag, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled. A 15% performance improvement is measured, not as good as the WDD result.
  • "Defrag+Auto" refers to the read time after enabling both the "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" function in Windows, and then running JKD. An improvement of 11.5% is recorded, still slower than WDD.
  • "Defrag+BartPE" refers to the read time after rebooting into the BartPE environment (running from a CD) and then running JKD from the command line. The result was almost as bad as no defrag at all, and I have no idea why. I tried this because the "Optimize Files" option seemed to be contradicting the file placement method of JKD.
  • "XP+Auto" is the result obtained after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and then running WDD, i.e. the best that Windows XP can manage.
  • "Basic Office" refers to the read time of all 802 test files, where no defragmentation has been done whatsoever, after the installation of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (Trial).
  • "Full Defrag" refers to the read time of all 802 test files after several reboots and two passes using the JKD program, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled, using the default defrag option. A 21.8% performance improvement has been measured, still 8.5% short of the "Office Auto" below.
  • "Full+BartPE" refers to the read time after rebooting into the BartPE environment (running from a CD) and then running JKD from the command line. This performance improvement of 18.9% is 12.4% slower than "Office Auto".
  • "Office Auto" is the result obtained by allowing Windows XP to do its own defrag after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions.
The performance improvement ranges between 11% and 21%, with slower results obtained when both built-in Windows functions are employed; "Optimize Boot" is enabled by default and does not appear to cause any performance loss, only "Optimize Files".
An average 16.8% performance improvement over no defrag at all is pretty good, better than the freeware Auslogics Disk Defrag program, and not too far behind the "heavy hitter" commercial packages. This is more remarkable because JkDefrag does not do any specific processing of the files listed in the "layout.ini" file.
This image is how the drive looked before the first defrag test was done. The yellow blocks are fragmented files, the pink part is the MFT reserved space, darker green files are "spacehogs" and lighter green are "normal" files. When the defrag has finished (as in the top image) the directories are stored first (bottom left), then there is a 1% free space gap, then the "normal" files, then another 1% gap, then the "spacehogs".
The file at the top of the top image is the pagefile.sys file, which was moved there during the BartPE defrag. In the bottom picture it is halfway between the pink section and the bottom of the image.
The next program to be tested is UltimateDefrag, from DiskTrix.

Congress 101


South African parliament has a similar process: they call it absenteeism, or "caucusing" or whatever. Uncle Jay has a podcast feed and a web site.

Benchmarks*: PerfectDisk 8.0.0.67

You can find a review of the $39.99 PerfectDisk 8 program (PD8), as well as the benchmark results obtained. I was disappointed that the times were not faster than WDD, and somewhat bewildered. PD8 does a very thorough job, and can defrag drives that WDD is incapable of doing. I am at a loss to explain why the numbers are what they are, or why the times measured were so slow. My laptop never "feels" slow after using PD8, so these numbers seem to contradict my experience of using the product. Weird.
The graph shows PerfectDisk 8 (PD8) in dark blue, and the results from Windows XP in light blue. The first test is at the bottom, and shorter lines mean faster times.
  • "Basic XP" refers to the standard install, without Office 2007, so there are only 710 files to be tested.
  • "Defrag" refers to the read times of the same 710 files, after two defrag passes using the PD8 program, with no "Optimize Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled, allowing PD8 to manage the boot files itself (recommended). A 12% performance improvement is measured, not as good as the WDD result.
  • "Defrag+Layout.ini" refers to the read time after enabling "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and the Windows LAYOUT.INI option in PD8. An improvement of 20.9% is recorded, still slower than WDD.
  • "XP+Auto" is the result obtained after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and then running WDD, i.e. the best that Windows XP can manage.
  • "Basic Office" refers to the read time of all 802 test files, where no defragmentation has been done whatsoever, after the installation of Microsoft Office 2007 Professional (Trial).
  • "Full Defrag" refers to the read time of all 802 test files after several reboots and two passes using the PD8 program, with no "Optimise Files" or "Optimize Boot" options enabled, using the "SMARTPlacement" defrag option, and allowing PD8 to manage the boot files itself (recommended). A 23.4% performance improvement has been measured, still 6.3% short of the "Office Auto" below.
  • "Full+Layout.ini" refers to the read time after enabling "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions in Windows, and the Windows LAYOUT.INI option in PD8. This performance improvement of 26.8% is still 1.6% slower than "Office Auto".
  • "Office Auto" is the result obtained by allowing Windows XP to do its own defrag after enabling both "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" functions.
The performance improvement ranges between 12% and 26%, with mixed results obtained when the built-in Windows functions are employed; "Optimize Boot" is enabled by default. Still, an average 20.8% performance improvement over no defrag at all is pretty good, better than DK2007's average and not far behind Diskeeper 2008 Pro Premier, which is $60 more expensive.
Here is a picture of the drive before any defragmentation was done. Compare this with the top picture, which is the end result of the "Full Defrag" step. PD8's main strength is its ability to organise the files using its "SMARTPlacement" method.
Even though faster read times were obtained using both the "Optimize Files" and "Optimize Boot" options available in Windows, the "Optimize Files" option causes boot files to be moved away from the start of the disk, and is therefore not recommended.
Notice how the purple startup files are scattered around the disk if you choose the "Let Windows manage the layout.ini files" option. Over time this will get worse, not better, and the small performance gain at startup will be lost.
PD8's boot time defrag is highly effective at defragmenting critical system files and metadata, but it would seem that the "SMARTPlacement" method is not as effective at fast startup read times as some of the other methods available, even if it does manage to organise the files in an effective manner. Further tests will tell how PD8 and other defraggers fare with data files and prolonged use.
I have started testing JkDefrag and will publish these results next.


Warning: The NSA and 4 million other sick weirdos with "security clearance" have intercepted this page and know that you are reading it.