Friday, June 29, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout: Why Defrag at all?

There are a few interesting myths and misconceptions out there about PCs and defragmentation. The first myth is that NTFS drives don't need to be defragmented. The second is that "modern" operating systems don't need to be defragmented at all. The third is that simple defragmentation on its own keeps your PC working fast.
The last one is the easiest to deal with. Recently I converted my brother's old Pentium II machine running WindowsXP into a "backup server". The WDD defrag program had been run occasionally, and the drive was pretty full, so most files were not too seriously fragmented.
As you can see from the "before" picture, the green files are all defragmented, but not particularly well organised. This was partly because I had just uninstalled a whole load of games and other junk from what was at one time a family PC.
Then I set to work on the drive using JkDefrag, allowing it to do its standard default defrag. Here is the result:
Given the choice between the two drive layouts, which one do you think will work more efficiently? The answer is pretty obvious. It was easily demonstrated on the PC in question because of its low processing horsepower in the first place. By the time I had defragmented the drive, cleaned the registry with CCleaner, and then compressed it with NTREGOPT, the machine was starting to "run" instead of "walk".
Defragmentation isn't the only strategy to make a PC run faster, but it is one of the strategies that are useful. "Regular" defragmentation is better than "random" defragging, but how often is "regular"? It depends on your PC. If you are generating lots of files, or editing databases, a daily defrag may be required. If your files are pretty small, a monthly defrag is probably good enough.
My own rule of thumb: if the defrag takes longer than an hour you need to do it more often. If it takes less than 10 minutes, defrag less often. You don't want to waste a lot of time in order to save a little time. Do the defrag during a quiet period, such as when you're away from your desk for a meeting, or after hours. In that way you don't waste productive time.
The other myths take longer to explain, but every drive on the planet runs the risk of fragmented files. Consider the following scenario: I install a 10GB drive on a server, and connect 2 PCs to the server. User A saves a 4GB data file to the server. The next day user B saves a 3GB file. So the drive has 3GB free. Now user A modifies his data file so it grows to 4.1GB. Even if he deletes the old file before saving the new one, there are only 2 gaps of 3GB each on the drive, unless the server moved the files around, which it isn't likely to do. So the 4.1GB file will be fragmented. Now it's up to the server to sort out the fragmentation. Different operating systems will do this in different ways, but every OS has to have a solution, even Linux.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Nedbank hits grieving mom with 90% interest charges

by Xolile Bhengu, The Times
When Doris Msibi, 55, borrowed R4 000 to pay for her daughter’s funeral, she didn’t realise she would be repaying a total of R11 509.55 — almost 90% interest.
But the loan was not from a loan shark. It was with one of South Africa’s top four banks — Nedbank.
Msibi borrowed R4 000, but she was immediately charged an additional R1 000 in “administration fees”, which meant she now has to pay R320.17 a month for three years.
Msibi said: “I only qualified for R1000 from work. My burial society had buried two of my relatives before, and were unwilling to pay for my daughter’s funeral.”
The grieving mother was approached at her place of work, Anglo Research, by a broker, who was only known to her as Sello, offering loan arrangements through Nedbank.
Though she specifically asked for her loan to be paid back over 24 months, she later discovered her loan agreement was for three years.
Msibi, who has worked as a cleaner for 20 years, earns a gross salary of R1 800 a month. After deductions for clothing accounts and furniture, the Doornkop resident is left with about R800 to take care of two grandchildren and her son.
With only Grade 5 education, Msibi struggled to understand the loan agreement she had signed and turned to colleague Elaine Kgosana for help.
Kgosana approached Nedbank’s Southdale branch and queried on Msibi’s behalf.
Kgosana said: “I was told she was a high-risk client and it was not unusual for people with her type of income to be charged such an astronomical interest rate, and that some people paid close to 90 percent interest.”
Msibi said she was willing to honour her loan payment but would like the interest to be lowered.
Nedbank personal loans strategic business communications manger Roshelle Pillay said: “We would like to confirm that ND Msibi took out a R4000 loan in September 2006, to be repaid over 36 months at an interest rate of 65.5percent.
“Under the Usury Act Exemption Notice and regulated by the Micro Finance Regulatory Council no maximum rates were set. The risk profile of the client influenced the rate at which the client repays the loan.”
But run a R4 000 three-year loan at 65.5 percent interest through a loan calculator, and the monthly repayments come to R256.14.
The R320.17 Msibi is being charged equates to a R5 000 three-year loan at 65.5 percent. Since she received R4 000, she is effectively being charged 89 percent interest.
Msbibi agreed to this loan in October, before the National Credit Act came into effect in June. Nedbank said the new legislation sets a limit of 40.9 percent on unsecured loans at the current prime rate of 13 percent.
Nedbank is part of the Old Mutual group.

Update 10-July-2007: After The Times ran the story, the bank shaved off R6,941.44 from the R11,509.55 Msibi would have had to pay at the end of her loan agreement. Now an anonymous donor, a 71-year-old woman from Cape Town, deposited a cheque for R4,568.11 into Msibi’s Nedbank account late last week after reading of her predicament in The Times.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Surface Computing in the future

The Gizmo Effect

Suddenly last week I started getting lots of responses to my "Great Defrag Shootout" series. Then my friend Ian, who subscribes to the "Gizmo" Support Alert Newsletter, send me a copy of issue number 146. All it said in the newsletter was:
1.4 The Great Defrag Shoot-out
One of the best comparative reviews of defragmentation utilities I've seen. I don't agree with all the author's comments but hey, everyone is entitled to their opinion.
The following traffic graph from shows the effect quite clearly:
Anatomu Traffic graphAll I can say is, thanks for the mention, and I hope your readers found what they were looking for.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Most Satisfying Way of Nuking Spam

I hate spam, be it unsolicited emails, SMS messages, or phone calls. I recently heard of another service in the arsenal against spam: SPAMfighter. They have a free service, and a paid one. The free service has limitations and it displays ads in your Outlook or Outlook Express program. Personally I think the idea sucks.
But the SPAMfighter add-in for Outlook works so well that I was willing to pay the R180 per year to get the "pro" version. It took some persistence to do so, as I had to fight with their online store, but I won in the end.
Why pay for another service when I've already got a paid email address? Simply because some mails slip through the filters, and the M-Web spam filters, and they drive me nuts. This service has been pretty good at identifying the critters that get through. I "store" all the spam in Outlook's "deleted items" folder, instead of the default "SpamFighter" folder.
How many mails slip through About one or two a day; another 70 or so get caught by, and never make it to my mailbox in the first place. Why spammers even bother with addresses beats me, but then I guess they're just stupid, or greedy, or both.
When you download the SPAMfighter software you get a free 30 day license for the "pro" version. If you plan to buy the program, wait until day 31 before you buy: the 1 year license does not get added to the 30 day trial, but starts immediately, so I go suckered out of 3 weeks free service. If you use Outlook or Outlook Express and unsolicited emails drive you crazy, this service is just for you. If you find a message that gets through, just click on the "Block" button and that message is then sent to their mail servers and all other SPAMfighter users get their copies of the same message blocked. So it gets deleted from over 3 million other inboxes, of which 8028 are users in South Africa, where I live. The stats on their home page make for interesting reading, assuming they're true.
Some time ago I bought SpamEater Pro, which is also a great anti-spam program, but you have to run it before you do a send and receive, and that became a hassle when I got my account, because there were so few spam messages left. This method is simpler, and you get the satisfaction of automatically warning others which email messages are a nuisance.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Zippy gets cleverer

Zippy Backup Assist is a utility that I use regularly to save development work into zip files, where the zip file name includes the date. It also gets used to repair and compact Access databases before making the backup, to keep the zip files small and the Access files manageable.
Now I have added another feature: a second parameter that is passed to the zip.bat batch file when Zippy quits. This second parameter contains another date, usually one day behind the first one, but it can be any number of days.
The new version includes an Inno Setup-generated setup file, and can optionally install the PkZipC software as well.
Update: I have made some more improvements to make a backup copy of any mdb file name ending with the word "data", and the "pause" time is less CPU-intensive. It also has a MSG= keyword, and the PAUSE= function works a bit better. Get version 1.0081.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Great Defrag Shootout XVI: O&O Defrag V10 Professional

It's amazing what a few changes can make. Version 8.6 of O&O Defrag was a bit frustrating because it refused to defragment files, and one part of the program didn't seem to know what the other part was doing. Version 10 fixes a lot of these problems. The main thing that's new is the snazzy new interface with a ribbon bar. More important, though, is the engineering under the hood.
O&O Software claim to be able to do a defrag down to 5% free space, and the on-screen prompts explain for more clearly what is going on and how each defrag mode works. This in itself has changed my rating from a "Thumbs Down" to a "Thumbs up". But the sense of control is still a bit "rubbery": you click on the stop button and it doesn't always respond as fast as you want it to. The system doesn't always tell you what it is busy with and what it's up to. If you want immediate defrags no matter how little fragmentation is on the drive, this program will frustrate you; but if you want a program you can install and ignore, this is probably the best.
A big weakness is that you can't use the "AUTO" defrag and the screen saver defrag at the same time. Every time the screen saver kicks in it stops the auto defrag, and I couldn't figure out how to start it again. So you have to choose between Auto Defrag mode and Screen Saver mode, but neither the screen saver module nor the main module provides any warning of this.
One feature that works nicely is the ability of the program to resume a defrag where it left off, which saves time and makes it more efficient. Unfortunately version 10 still has some raw edges. The Help button didn't work when I installed the program on drive D:, so I had to go looking for it to find out what is new in version 10. The help file lists 4 items, but not under "What's New" but in the next section.
The boot up defrag takes a bit too long on my machine, but I can't complain that my files are in a mess: they're not. The progam allows for various kinds of defragmentation plans, but puts all the free space at the end of the drive, so new files are slower. Many other programs (exclusing JkDefrag and Ultimate Defrag) do this too, so it's not alone in this respect. This program allows you to see where the files are, a feature it shares with Vopt. But it has boot time defrag and a screen saver option, something Vopt doesn't have. I'd rather spend $44.95 for this program than $99 for Diskeeper Pro Premier or $49.95 for Diskeeper Pro, but it's more expensive than Vopt $40 and PerfectDisk $39.99.

The Great Defrag Shootout: Part I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X | XI | XII | XIII | XIV | XV | XVI | XVII | XVIII | XIX | XX | XXI | XXII | XXIII | XXIV | XXV | XXVI | XXVII | XXVIII | XXIX| winner | all | why

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Scopa Probes eNaTIS

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Public Accounts (Scopa) has launched a probe into the awarding of a R408- million tender for the controversial eNatis project.
The Sunday Times has established that Scopa has sent several questions to Mpumi Mpofu, the Director-General in the Department of Transport, asking her to provide a list of companies which tendered for the project and the respective values of their bids.
The probe was triggered by the fiasco which greeted the introduction of the new electronic National Traffic Information System.
The system’s crash has resulted in huge delays in vehicle licence registrations around the country.
Scopa’s preliminary questions have solicited responses that show the eNatis tender was allocated to the most expensive bidder.
Scopa chairman Themba Godi said the watchdog body was “anxious” about the performance of eNatis and “needed clarity” as public funds were involved. The glitches in the system raised suspicion that due diligence and risk analysis were not properly performed, before it was introduced, he said.
The tender was awarded in 2001 to the Tasima consortium at an initial value of R354 731 000. It was subsequently increased to R408-million.
Tasima, also known as Masiye Phambili, beat nine companies who bid at prices below R354.7-million.
Another two companies bid below the final R408-million the system has cost. AST Group lost with a R372-million bid and another company, Natcon, lost with a R395-million bid. This brings the companies that bid lower than the ultimate winner to 11, if the adjustment to R408-million is taken into account.
Strangely, Mpofu’s response to Scopa lists two other separate bid amounts under the name Natcon, at R467-million and R457-million, respectively.
The office of the Auditor-General is also conducting a procurement audit on the eNatis project as part of the regularity audit conducted on public entities.

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