Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Dear HP, where did my 80GB drive go?

Penny's new HP Pavilion notebook is beautiful. She loves the shiny finish, the DVD remote control, and the overall design of the notebook. But like many beautiful things, it has its trouble spots.
According to the advertised specifications, the unit has an 80GB drive.
According to Spinrite, the drive size is 80,026,361,856 bytes, which is only 74.53GB. An 80GB drive would be 85,899,345,920 bytes, since there are 1024MB in 1GB, and so on. So that means that 6.8% of my drive is vapourware!
To add insult to injury, the drive is partitioned into a "recovery" partition and a "working" partition, and the working partition is only 69.3GB. The other partition is for drivers and the Windows Vista install files, which I can't use because the backup software doesn't work.
So the advertised 80GB drive is effectively a 69.3GB drive. The missing 10.7GB is either "shrinkage" or badly configured. That's a loss of 13.3%! Thanks for that, Hewlett Packard!
Update: since posting this article on Digg, several readers have said that I was supplied with an 80GB (SI units) drive, not an 80GBi drive. How nice: as a consumer I am expected to "know" that when the specs say "up to 2GB" in the case of RAM they mean 2048MB, but when referring to hard drives they mean 2000MB. What nonsense!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

What the Windows Vista WOW stands for

After battling to get Penny's new HP dv6204eu laptop with Windows Vista to work, I've concluded that the "WOW" stands for "Will Office Work?"
Using Office 2000 has turned out to be a disaster. The Office Assistant hangs, and you only get the default "Clippy" assistant. If you try to choose a different one, you get an "out of memory error". And every time I open Outlook 2000, it thinks it has been installed for the first time (?!) as shown in the screen shots below:
Then there is the problem about making the recovery disk, because HP are too stingy to provide the DVD media. The utility to create the media only runs once, and it crashed, so now we have to order the DVD from HP and it involves a whole load of paperwork. I took this screen shot while it was working. It got to 80% and then crashed. Since its only designed to run ONCE, this wasn't particularly helpful.

Windows Vista Launch

All those people floundering around represent the new Vista users figuring out how to make the damn thing work.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Asking the right questions about crime

This arrived in my mailbox: "After [the author] was a victim of crime in 2000, [the author] attended many crime discussions, brain storming and therapy sessions. At each of these discussions the question came up on how to tackle the symptoms of crime. The only question never raised was:
Question: "What is the influence of crime on the S.A. Govt?"
Answer: Crime generates millions and millions of Rands for the S.A. Govt.
Here are the facts:
Example 1:
Take just one million home owners in Gauteng who pay for "armed crime reaction" (not crime prevention) where private security companies react AFTER the crime has taken place - no wonder they never make any arrests!
This service costs on average R250 p.m. Therefore 1 000,000 x R240.00 X 12 months x 14% VAT, generates R403 million in tax revenue for the S.A. Govt!

Example 2:
A car thief steals a R500,000 car and receives between R10,000 and R30,000 for his deed. The car owner is paid out by insurance and then purchases another similar vehicle, on which he pays 14% VAT of approx R70,000 as a direct result of crime. Who profited the most? The thief or the S.A.Govt?
We must begin with a mechanism whereby the S.A. Govt is forced to reconsider this unconstitutional and immoral practice of profiting from crime!
All South Africans should demand that all payments related to protection of life and property should be VAT free and Tax deductible!
This principle should also apply to replacement of stolen property as well as estate duty. If a person dies as a result of crime we should also demand that estate duty not be paid. How much do you think the S.A. Govt has made out of estate duty from the murders of 1300 South African farmers?
The S.A. Govt likes to compare us to overseas. Well overseas your safety and security is covered by your income tax and is tax deductible!
It is time that South Africans stood together and made the Govt and public aware of the Govt's "income" from crime. In the meantime crime is the goose that lays the golden egg Is it also not unreasonable to expect victims of violence and hijackings to pay their own medical costs? The Govt should pay for these expenses as well as family counselling for victims!
Come on South Africa, ask the right questions and demand the right answers!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Aleit Park grass recovers from felled tree

Every time the City Parks guys visit our park, they get something else right. Last time they managed to remove most of the dead branches left over from the cut down tree. Only a few stumps are left. This time they cut the grass that had been obstructed by the tree for nearly 18 months. It's looking good. Click on the photo for more detail
The other main improvements to the park have been a repaired wooden fence that keeps the joyriders off the grass, and new litter bins that make it easier for people to be tidy. The photo below was taken a few weeks ago, showing the kitchen staff from Carvers enjoying some time out playing cards in the park.

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Laptop is in the Refrigerator

Penny's IBM ThinkPad R31 laptop has had a cooling problem for some time now because the motherboard is defective. Yesterday the hard drive developed a fault and the machine couldn't boot. Most likely the fault is because the drive runs too hot because the motherboard is faulty.
I booted the machine up with Spinrite, and after a minute or so it warned me that the drive was too hot. The only way I could run Spinrite's diagnostics was to put the entire laptop in the fridge. See photo. So far Spinrite has identified a part of the drive that is faulty, but I should be able to get around 98% of the data off the drive. If it wasn't for Spirite we would have lost most of it long ago.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hamachi and Radmin - an amazing combination

If you didn't already know, Hamachi rocks! It's a free utility that is simple to install and can allow you to create a Virtual Private Network (VPN) that is totally secure. Hamachi is owned by LogMeIn, another great service.
But LogMeIn doesn't do remote control of PCs like Radmin does. Radmin is the shorthand name for Remote Administrator, a powerful, secure and extremely useful utility for maintaining multiple PCs on a LAN, WAN or VPN. It isn't free like VNC, but the pricing is affordable and the features are incredibly useful.
In addition to being able to control the remote PC, you can copy files to the PC without being limited by file sharing restrictions, and you can get the contents of the remote clipboard, or set the remote clipboard from your PC. This works extremely well and efficiently on a broadband connection, and even a dial-up connection can be used if you limit the number of colours you wish to see on the remote PC.
Now combine thes two great utilities and you have something both incredibly powerful and totally secure. When I'm not on the Men's Clinic VPN I can still connect to it via a Windows XP machine running Hamachi, as long as I can connect to the intrnet. Similarly, I can connect to the Drive Report server using Hamachi, and other users can do the same from home using their WiFi connection. The VPN is protected by one of Steve Gibson's really secure passwords, so I don't have to worry about hackers getting into my machine. Ramin has its own passwords, so even if the hacker got on to my Hamachi network, there is still the Ramin password to get through.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Kettle TV is fun to watch

The first time I saw a transparent kettle I was fascinated, and have kept a lookout for one ever since. In December our local Pick 'n Pay added an amazing one to their store, and I couln't resist getting one, especially since our previous kettle stopped working.
This one has an automatic cut-off, and a "keep it warm" switch, so you can boil the kettle and keep the water hot until you're ready to use it. It's also got a removable base, making it easy to fill without having to unplug it from the wall.
The best part is watching it boil. The photo above doesn't do it justice, even if you click on it for a larger image. You can see the bubbles developing and then growing, and it's often more entertaining than the TV. That's why my kettle is now called "Kettle TV" because it fascinates our visitors too.
I also devised a simple way of getting rid of the "scale" buildup that happens inside the glass: vinegar. Just add some vinegar to the leftover hot water in the kettle, and in a minute or two the acid in the vinegar has dissolved all the alkaline scale from the inside. I use red vinegar so you don't inadvertently pour the vinegar mixture into a cup of tea.

Monday, February 12, 2007

TrueCrypt keeps data safe from laptop thieves

TruecryptTrueCrypt is a free utility that keeps data safe from prying eyes. It works invisibly and seamlessly, and it is simple and easy to set up and use.
You create an encrypted "volume", which is basically a large encrypted file. This is made available to Windows as another "drive" with a drive letter, such as M:. You treat the drive as just another drive, and you can create folders, edit files, defragment it, and do anything else you would normally do with a drive. The difference is that the contents of the drive are stored in encrypted form on the actual hard drive, and the only way anyone can see the contents of the M: drive is to open the drive by providing the required passphrase. This is a long password and is generally a sentence or something you can remember.
The encryption is so strong that it could take centuries for a very powerful computer to figure out the password. Basically the only practical way to read the files on the M: drive is to put a gun to the laptop owner's head and tell him to type in the password. For the casual laptop thief the only useful thing to do with the encrypted volume is to delete it or format the entire hard drive. Even the most determined hacker will have to use devious means to get hold of the password, such as bribing someone, blackmailing them or getting them drunk or stoned. Perhaps a surveillance video would give them clues, or using a keylogger. All of these methods rely on the weakest part of computer security: people. The software is basically bulletproof.
Last month a laptop was stolen from a Men's Clinic branch. Because we use Truecrypt on all the laptops, we didn't worry about losing the data. And the least of our problems is that data, sensitive as it is, getting into the wrong hands. If you are using a laptop with sensitive or embarassing data on it, you need to protect it with TrueCrypt.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tracker: Our Noisy Neigbours

Tracker, the vehicle tracking system, has their offices next to a residential block of flats. So we have to put up with their racket, especially after hours.
Yesterday they started experiencing some kind of electrical problem, and City Power installed a standby generator while they work on the problem. You can see the photo above, taken in the early hours of this morning as the light of dawn started appearing in the Eastern sky. Thankfully it was placed on the side of the building away from our block of flats, so we can hardly hear it at all.
The noise that makes it difficult to sleep comes from the parking basement, which houses Tracker's own standby generators. These have been running for hours, and ran for extended periods of time earlier in the week. The noise from these standby generators is louder than City Power's emergency one, and it is amplified by the empty basement, and comes out of the parking garage doors directly towards a residential block of flats.
Judging by all the lights that are on at 5am, there is no shortage of power in the building. It would be nice if there was a shortage of noise, especially when local residents are trying to get some sleep. I woke up at 4.30am after battling to go to sleep last night, and found it impossible to get to sleep again. Eventually I went round to their offices and took these pictures. The sun had not even risen yet.

Tracker has a history of being noisy neighbours. When they first moved in they were forced to stop installing car alarm systems on their premises because of the constant noise of alarms going off. Then in 2004 we were forced to complain about their loud office parties, complete with outside PA systems and live music, which went on until late in the night. One particular party was so loud that even with the doors and windows closed, and with earplugs in my ears, I could hear the words of the songs being played. They eventually agreed to finish their parties at around 9pm, but not before I had to personally go and visit their PR department.
The next outrage was in Feb 2005 when they decided to do helicopter flips for their bigger clients, starting at 8am on a Saturday morning, and proceeding the entire morning. Not only did they not have permission from the Civil Aviation Authority, but the flights were non-essential joy rides! The noise was deafening. Imagine a helicopter taking off and landing every 20 minutes or so within 300m of your bedroom window. The photo was taken with a cell phone camera, so it isn't that big. We were able to read the registration markings of the chopper and report it to the CAA. What's worse is there is a helipad at the Cresta shopping centre, within walking distance of their offices, that they could have used. I guess they weren't given permission because the flights were joy rides, not essential or emergency ones.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Telkom resumes ADSL "service" for now

At 6pm last night the ADSL connectivity was restored. The technician connected the line to a different DSLAN port, and his test modem was able to log in and browse the web.
My modem wouldn't. We tested the lightning surge protector, which seems to be fine, but my Planet modem is now cooked. I have a replacement one, but will have to find a manual for it (and the time) to set it up again. I must say the technician was reasonably knowledgeable and professional, and we both tested everything thoroughly.
I guess it would be asking too much for Telkom to employ more technicians to deal with their fault backlog.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Jack the Cable Guy needs a hearing aid

Day 15 without ADSL and I get a call from a Telkom technician at the exchange. Eureka!
My enthusiasm was short lived, however, because he had no idea what was going on. The job card 378ARK310107 either didn't say what the problem was, or he didn't read it. My gut feel tells me that the information on the job card is usually so garbled or just plain wrong that there is no reason why he should read it.
So why should "Jack the Cable Guy", Telkom's cute little mascot, get a hearing aid? Because the call centre is trained to be deaf. All they want to know is where the fault is, and log it. So far this current fault has had the line tested about 5 times by different people. And the first thing the technician did was try to test the line.
They don't listen when you tell them that the analog part of the line is working. They don't know about the previous reference numbers: 237CRK180107, 215ARK211206, 36ARK170506, 6ARK170206. And when a reference number is finally closed, there is no information about the nature of the fault or how it was fixed.
This would be fine if they had one or two faults to deal with, but at the moment the backlog is "three weeks", and they are logging over 200 new faults per day, judging by the reference numbering.
Update 7-Feb-2007 6pm: The technician confirmed to me that his job card shows no information whatsoever about the fault. So all the information supplied to the call centre was a complete waste of time. Either the call centre is deaf, or the job card system is deaf.