Monday, December 29, 2008

Free Your Voice


Time for bloggers to free their voices? Now you know how!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Benchmarking and Software Decisions

I have been setting up FRAGG, my benchmarking PC, with software and data in preparation for "". That's the ZAPS logo on my desktop. I added it because I was so impressed with their prices and service. So far I have managed to fill up my 149GB hard drive with a lot of software, and test data. But I am still mystified about which benchmark software, if any, is capable of measuring the effects of file fragmentation on the system in a meaningful way.
Do I have to do "The Great Benchmark Shootout" in order to do "The 2009 Defrag Shootout"? I hope not. But I have a nasty suspicion that I'm going to have to learn a lot about how these benchmarks work before I can get anything meaningful out of them.
One thing I have noticed about Vista Home Basic: the hard drive seems to have a life of its own, partly because the page file size keeps changing. I guess this tells me that 1GB RAM is not enough for many of these benchmarks. I have installed the very useful HardDriveIndicator utility to show whether the hard drive is busy, because the HDD light isn't easy to see from my desk.
Another change to my normal behaviour is that I have forced myself NOT to empty the Recycle Bin or clear any browsing caches. So far I have accumulated 8,515MB of deletable files. It is going to be interesting to see what the various defrag programs make of this. I have also created some compressed folders, and copied several large files, greater than 4GB, to the disk, some compressed, some not.
The data files are a collection of archived podcasts, audio books, Word and Excel documents, PDF files, scanned images, photographs and recordings, made by my wife and I over the last few years. There are recent files and old files, and sizes ranging across the board, in various folder structures.
At the moment the system is a mess, and it sometimes takes a several seconds for the "Programs and Features" list to open (see below). I'm trying to get it to look like a typical home user's PC, or a badly maintained office PC. Normally I use NOD32 as my anti-virus program, but this time I'm using the freeware version of AVG, because it is extremely common, and because the automatic scan of all the files takes over an hour. I figure this may become a useful benchmark all by itself.
For fun, I installed all the major browsers (IE7, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, Opera), and all the Windows Live and Live Mesh stuff, except Messenger. Then I added Microsoft Office 2007, OpenOffice.org 3, Windows Media Player 11, RealPlayer 11, iTunes 8, Quicktime, etc. I also added some extra fonts, the SysInternals Tools, DirectX, and a bunch of other stuff. I used Firefox's DownThemAll add-on to download most of the software, and copied other files onto a shared folder while this was happening, to attempt to get further hard drive fragmentation.
I have purchased PCMark05 (WinXP, Vista) and PCMark Vantage (Vista only), since they claim to be able to benchmark the system's hard drive, and these utilities were used to trash the performance of several defrag programs by MaximumPC. These utilities claim to be able to determine the boot time of WinXP and Vista, although they don't actually reboot the PC. Benchmarks used by the 3DProfessor for their Diskeeper propaganda include SpecViewPerf 10 and SiSoftware Sandra 2009 SP2.
Further research on MajorGeeks and Downloads.com have led me to numerous other utilities for benchmarking, including the PassMark Performance Test 6.1 and IOzone 3.311. Here is the completed software list:
Now I have to back up the disk image with Acronis TrueImage and then start all over again with WinXP.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Diskeeper's Dianetics Difficulties

It seems that Diskeeper is having legal hassles once again. According to the Wikipedia article, the German government kicked up a fuss in 2000 about the inclusion of Diskeeper's defrag program in Windows 2000, because of their concerns about the company's close connections with the Scientology organisation.
"Executive Software [now Diskeeper] CEO Craig Jensen is a member of the Church of Scientology and has claimed his employees are schooled in the principles of Scientology's founder, L. Ron Hubbard.
"Our staff is trained on these procedures," Jensen said in 1992. (Wired article)
Now a former CIO is suing Diskeeper because he claims he was fired for not participating in Scientology training. The legal papers are long, and Diskeeper has responded to them, so the case will be heard at some point. Scott Pilutik writes:
Alexander Godelman and Marc Le Shay, two Diskeeper employees (Godelman was CIO and Le Shay hired as the Automation Planning Officer) have filed a complaint in the Los Angeles Superior Court alleging that Scientology training was a condition of employment and that their refusal to participate led to their dismissal. According to the complaint, "[T]he working conditions and work environment at Diskeeper were inextricably intertwined with the Scientology religion such that a non-Scientologist cannot escape constant impositions of said religion."
When Godelman complained that these programs ran counter to his own religious belief (Judaism), former Diskeeper CEO and current Chairman Craig Jensen told Godelman that his attendance at the "training courses" was "not negotiable," adding that Godelman would become more intelligent and his personal life would "improve drastically." Jensen also warned Godelman to not "complain about the process" in emails, which Jensen feared would be "misconstrued" and/or "taken out of context." Le Shay was eventually fired after he refused to attend and participate in a course series entitled "Basic Study Manual" and after Godelman interceded on Le Shay's behalf, Godelman was also terminated.
The Daily Tech article states:
Diskeeper’s response seeks to black out Godelman and Le Shay’s request that the company “forever refrain from … requiring any employee, as a condition of employment, to study, adopt and/or apply the [Scientology-authored] ‘Hubbard Management Technology’ and/or the related ‘Hubbard Study Technology’ in the workplace.” The unusual request is justified by the company’s First Amendment rights, of which it argues that injunctions prohibiting religious practice in the workplace are unconstitutional.

Coincidentally, (or is it synchronistically?) I was doing research on Wikipedia about "vexatious litigation" (in connection with my own case), and discovered that one of the most notable vexatious litigants is the Church of Scientology:
"Plaintiffs (Scientologists) have abused the federal court system by using it, inter alia, to destroy their opponents, rather than to resolve an actual dispute over trademark law or any other legal matter. This constitutes 'extraordinary, malicious, wanton and oppressive conduct.' As such, this case qualifies as an 'exceptional case' and fees should be awarded pursuant to the Lanham Act ... It is abundantly clear that plaintiffs sought to harass the individual defendants and destroy the church defendants through massive over-litigation and other highly questionable litigation tactics. The Special Master has never seen a more glaring example of bad faith litigation than this."
I just hope that Diskeeper has the good business sense not to employ the same lawyers and tactics that Scientologists have used in the past. They are not getting much good publicity from this case, and some of the reactions on Twitter have been somewhat hostile, with people saying that they are uninstalling the software because of this case. Personally, I can think of better reasons for uninstalling the software, including the company's over-reliance on HYPE to sell its products, and the misleading impressions created by their marketing.
I plan to do a proper review of Diskeeper 2009, along with its competitors. This is partly inspired by a June article in MaximumPC called "The Disk Defrag Difference", in which they cite "negligible performance gains" for 3 defrag products, based on the PCMark Vantage benchmarks. I think their choice of benchmark determined their conclusions, so I plan on using several benchmarks and tests on my new test PC, FRAGG.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

My New Sahara Defrag Testing Computer


Today I unpacked "FRAGG", my brand new Sahara computer. I bought it from the good people at ZAPS in Randburg, after doing a search on www.pricecheck.co.za. The model DT825125-P601 cost me R 3,726 including VAT, and comes with Windows Vista Home Basic and a load of other consumer-friendly software.
My first task has been to disable the scheduled defrag program in Vista, and uninstall some of the "crapware" like Google desktop search. I made a System Restore point before downloading and installing all 41 available system updates. The second task was to do the Windows Update, and get Windows Defender working. I also used SDelete to set all the free space to zero, so that the compression will work better using Acronis True Image, since I'm doing a sector-by-sector backup.
Once the backup is complete, I'm going to decide what "crapware" to keep, and what to get rid of. The Samsung HD161HJ hard drive is enormous: there is 149GB disk space, so it will be possible to install a lot of applications and stuff on this machine, to really put it through its paces.
I also want to create a Windows XP installation image, with exactly the same software on it, so whatever defrag programs I test can be tested on both Vista and WinXP.
I'm using a Mecer Bravo external USB 450GB hard drive for storing the backup images and test files. I bought it on "special" at Game in Cresta, where it was advertised at R799.99 but they rounded it up to R800 and then wondered why I complained. I hope it was a loss leader. They also lost out on the sale of a Mecer desktop computer for R3800, and of course Hewlett-Packard didn't get a look in because of their bad driver for the HP1020 laser printer. Who says customers don't forget?
So thanks to Sahara and ZAPS for their efficient service, and to Game for reducing the price of the external drive. It's not every day that you order a computer on Saturday before Christmas and collect it on Tuesday; many computer companies are closed already. ZAPS is a gamer's paradise, so I guess they know about service.
Now the fun begins: deciding what applications to install, and deciding how to really put all the defrag programs through their paces. The computer should be fast enough: a Pentium Dual CPU E2200 running at 2.20GHz with 1GB RAM and 149GB hard drive. I actually only wanted an 80GB drive, but they weren't available. Its going to be tough filling this drive with fragmented files.
Here is the list of pre-installed software. Click on the image to read the details.

Uncle Jay Sings the News for 2008


Uncle Jay Explains the News is a brilliant, funny, satirical look at the week's news in America. Enjoy! He also has a YouTube channel.

His other most popular video is this one:

Saturday, December 20, 2008

MacBook is Windows Compatible? No seriously.


This was definitely one of those laugh out loud moments; followed by desperate searches for the Advertising Standards Authority phone number. Oh, wait! They're closed for Christmas, so by the time they get to slap Apple over the wrist for a false advertising complaint, it will be too late.
So here is my public service announcement for the week: the iMac and MacBook products listed on the flyers that are doing the rounds in your local newspaper are not only Windows Compatible, they're DOS and Linux compatible as well. And if you believe that you'll believe anything.
You can't install any Windows programs on a mac, since there are no Windows applications that run on OSX. Try installing Microsoft Access and call me if you can get it to work. There may be equivalent programs for the mac, such as Firefox and OpenOffice.org, or even a mac version of Microsoft Office, but you have to buy these separately. It's called the Apple tax.
Alternatively, you partition the drive and install Windows Vista on your mac. In order to do that you have to cough up R3249 for a retail copy of Windows. Then your old Windows apps will install and run, at least on the iMac. If that's what you call compatible then you might as well just install Ubuntu and be patriotic.
I wonder if Apple South Africa will be forced to give refunds to everyone who believes this kind of marketing? Do they really disrespect their customers that much that they want to lie to their customers in order to get them to buy their products? I thought only timeshare companies did that. The full pamphlet is shown below. Click on the image for a full size (scanned) version.

Update 31 Dec 2008: Apple UK sent me the following link, which explains how to set up Windows on a Mac. But you have to buy the book for £24.95, plus you have to buy Windows, so the advertising is still misleading, because the implication of the flyer is that it is all included in the price, which it isn't. It also doesn't mention that Apple provides no technical support for Windows.
Now you no longer have to choose between Mac OS X and Windows. The latest Macs from Apple can run both Mac OS X and Windows, so you’re not limited to just one operating system. Running Windows on your Mac explains how this simple technology works and walks you through every phase of the process of setting up Windows on your Mac. Are you a Windows user who’s buying your first Mac? A Macintosh user who needs to run Windows software? Or just a computer user who wants the best of both worlds? There’s something in this book for everyone. You’ll find detailed instructions for installing Windows on your Mac in three easy ways; a friendly guide to the Mac for Windows users; and a handy reference to Windows for Mac users.
In this book, you’ll learn how to:
  • Load and configure the two most popular Mac OS X virtualization programs, Parallels Desktop for Mac and VM ware Fusion.
  • Install Windows easily, either in Parallels or Fusion, or with Boot Camp.
  • Keep your Windows installation in top shape, free of viruses and spyware.
  • Run Windows applications alongside Macintosh programs.
  • Add your new Mac to an existing Windows network.
  • Explore the intricacies of a new operating system, whether it’s Mac OS X or Windows.

Update 20 January 2009: The ASASA sent me this letter, indicating they haven't a clue about computers, and they didn't listen to my complaint properly either. I wrote:
My complaint is that the goods on offer, as shown and configured, are not “Windows Compatible” as claimed: the user has to purchase a full retail copy of Windows to use on the machine, at a cost of around R3000, which is a significant amount. The average buyer cannot simply buy an Apple computer and install and run his favourite Windows game or application, which is what “compatibility” implies. If the average buyer has a Windows install CD from a previous machine, installing this software on the Apple computer would be illegal software piracy.
Also, it should be pointed out that neither Microsoft nor Apple provide any support for Apple computers with Windows installed, and the buyer should have been warned.
The advert is thus misleading because of the omissions. I feel that some kind of explanation should have been provided, even just an asterisk and the words “additional unsupported software and configuration required”. There is enough space on the advert for such a disclaimer.

In reply they wrote:
You mention that the product does not include windows [sic], and is therefore misleading. ... The advertising does not offer windows [sic] but communicates to a consumer that should they expect windows [sic] access, the Apple computer would support this function.

Precisely, but at what cost? Over R3000, without the labour and computer skills required! Considering I paid R 3800 for a new computer that includes Windows Vista, that is not an insignificant amount. I guess that's chicken feed when compared to the cost of a R24 000 Macbook Pro, but the cost is still an extra 12%.
One wonders what the ASA would say about an advert for a Ferrari being "Caravan Compatable"? Anyone who knows anything about cars would say it would be misleading and outrageous because of the extra cost and damage to the engine.
What would the ASA say about this? A TV may be DVD compatable, but you have to buy a DVD player to play DVDs. And DVD players are a lot cheaper than a retail copy of Windows.
Update 26th January: Greg Hill, the product marketing manager at Core Group, the Apple distributor in SA, called me.
"The intention of the "Windows Compatible" decal on the marketing material that you came across was not to mislead the consumer at all, but rather to highlight the fact that these fantastic machines are also capable of running MS Windows.
In future we will ensure that the consumer is made aware that the price does not include MS Windows.
We will also takes steps to coach the retail staff to communicate clearly that a legitimate version of Windows is required in order to take advantage of this feature on the Mac."

Friday, December 19, 2008

Madam and Eve Christmas

Madam and Eve is a great South African instution. Click on the image above for the detailed version that you can read. There are daily cartoons as well.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Vista's File Explorer Bug


If I open a file such as an Access database, and then work on it so the file size changes, it seems that Windows Vista gets confused about the size of the file. Since when does a file size become negative? In the screen shot the 1.08MB file suddenly becomes -9,926,656 bytes. If I click on another file, the negative calculation remains. The only way to get Explorer to display the status bar file sizes correctly is to close the window, and open it again.
I doubt if I'm the only one who has experienced this bug, and I doubt if Vista Service Pack 2 will fix it either. The picture above is doctored slightly to show the problem better. Click on the picture at the bottom to see the full screen shot.
I have tried to find an email address or blog where I could report this bug, but Microsoft has a tradition of refusing to acknowledge a bug even exists until it has been fixed. Searching for "report a bug to microsoft" in Google gets some interesting articles, but the only way to report the bug seems to be by snail mail.


Update 31 March 2009: Here is how to repeat the bug in Vista (32-bit):
  1. Create a directory called c:\temp.
  2. Open c:\temp in Explorer, check that the menu bar is showing. If not, then go to "Organise" -> "Layout" -> "Menu Bar" to enable the check mark.
  3. From the View menu, switch the "status bar" on, so you get "Computer" showing in the right hand third of the status bar.
  4. Create a small text file in c:\temp, i.e. fred.txt, and put some text in it, so it is now 1kb in size, or less.
  5. Create a new Word Document, and type in some stuff.
  6. Save it and close the file. Mine starts at around 10kb.
  7. Now double-click to open the file, and insert more text and graphics, so it grows to around 30kb. Save and close the file.
  8. In Vista, the status bar will still show the file size as 10kb.
  9. Now click on fred.txt, it will display its size as a negative number, as shown below.

Update Wednesay: I have been assigned a support reference number 2009040100727 by Bytes Outsources Services on behalf of Microsoft South Africa Customer Service and Support (post sales).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

All Marketers are Liars


This is a very interesting video about marketing by Seth Godin, the guy who wrote the book with the title "All Marketers are Liars".

Here is another talk he did about things that are broken.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Bye-bye Bush Iraqi Style


The Iraqi journalist said what the rest of us have felt for years: "Good riddance to bad rubbish". It's a pity the shoes missed. The US invasion of Iraq has been a costly disaster, and US taxpayers are starting to feel the effects.

Inspiration, Anyone?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hackers caught after R400 million lost

A mere R400 million has gone missing from state coffers as a result of computer hacking of government departments. That's over US$ 40 million for foreign readers. Given the sorry state of some of the departments I have visited, I'm not in the least bit surprised. How many ARV's could that have bought, or homeless children could it have fed?

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Boot Time Defragmentation

Boot time defrag capabilities have been around for years, but as Windows becomes more complex and file security gets tighter, boot time defrag becomes more useful. The defrag is done while your PC boots up (i.e. at boot time) before all the windows services get loaded, i.e. when the minimal number of files are being used.
My first recollection of a boot time defrag was in an early version of Diskeeper, sometime around 2000. When I bought PerfectDisk 7 it had a better boot time defrag, that sorted out the metadata files that you can't access once the OS is running. PerfectDisk 8 and 2008 also have this feature.
Then there is PageDefrag from Sysinternals, that defrags the registry, hibernation and page files, when it can. I haven't had much success using this on Windows Vista. Not surprising, since it was published in November 2006.
Then there is the freeware UltraDefrag, which can do a much more general job of defragmenting all kinds of files at boot time. I have had great success with this on Windows 2000 servers, as well as workstations. It doesn't manage to defrag the MFT though, but this feature is on a future "things to do" list. I have stopped using UltraDefrag for any other kind of defragmentation, because I don't like the user interface, but it's brilliant for boot time defrag. I have installed it on a few servers so that it can have a go at tidying things up when none of the server's services are running.
UltimateDefrag 2008 has finally released its own boot time defrag module, and claims
"The UltimateDefrag 2008 boot time/system file defrag module is a world first in what it enables you to be able to do when it comes to defragging and moving system files to areas on your drive that further enhance performance."
I have downloaded the new version and plan on running some tests to see how it works. It's a free upgrade for existing UD2008 owners, and until the end of the year the usual price of US$ 39.95 has been reduced to $29.96 for new customers.
The Best So Far
Last, but not least, is my current favourite defrag program, Puran Defrag 5.1. It has the best of both worlds: automatic defrag that you can set to run every now and then, and boot time defrag, which I have set to run the first time I boot up on a Wednesday. The review of this program has been ready for some time, but thanks to my legal hassles it has been delayed. The photo of my laptop screen at the top of this article shows PuranDefrag at work. It is currently selling for US$19.95, which is excellent value for a general purpose simple to use defrag utility.

Update 16 Dec 2008: See KB312067: "Shadow copies may be lost when you defragment a volume". It seems that the Shadow Copy service doesn't work terribly well on drives where defragmenting is being done. This affects any kind of defrag, not just at boot time.

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