Category Archives: Technical

802.11n is now actually a standard

I don’t classify myself as an early adopter, I usually wait until a new technology has been out a while and the price has come down a bit before I jump in.  Consequently I rarely find myself ahead of the certification curve.  It is more a measure of the length of time that the IEEE certification has taken that I am already on my second generation of 802.11n router when the standard has only just been approved.

Considering that Draft-n wifi gear has become almost the defacto standard for most new networking gear it was only a matter of time.  Some time was lost deciding between one of three proposals until the groups behing them decided to merge into one.  A patent case from CSIRO on technology used in the draft standard also delayed things to some extent.  Regardless of the delays n is now a standard.  All we need now is something faster.

How heavy is a useable Petabyte?

The team at MatrixStore have a post up calculating the weight of a petabyte of storage today compared to 1980.  Needless to say todays weight was a lot less.  The article was inspired by a post on Gizmodo illustrating how big a PB is.  There are two problems with the calculations though.

  1. 2TB is a marketing number.  The formatted capacity of 500 2TB drives is more like 916TB
  2. The weight is for the drives alone, which is not storage you could actually access and use
Image courtesy of WD
Image courtesy of WD

If we want to use 2TB drives we need a system that can hold 3.5″ drives.  The highest capacity tray I know of for these drives takes 48 SAS or SATA drives in 4U of rack space (about 7″ x 19″ x 24″).  You can sit multiple of these behind a single RAID box which would provide access for your computer over IP or FC depending on the type.

To get a real petabyte of base 2 usable storage you would need 546 2TB drives.  The whole setup including racks and power would weigh 1400kg or 3100lbs.  It would also consume 12kVA of power spitting out 39KBTU/hr of heat.

546 drives is for a PB of raw storage though.  In reality you would need to protect it from drive failures using RAID.  If we go for as littlle overhead as possible we can create 24 disk RAID 6 sets which would have about 40.4TB useable storage each.  For this we need about 600 drives which adds another 100kg to the weight.  Still about 1/180th of the weight of a PB just 30 years ago.

Has the Internet ruined our surprises?


Like a few other thousands of people around the Internet I have payed close attention to the E3 briefings going on down in Las Vegas this week and it got me to thinking.

As I watch the live streams of the Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo briefs most of it seemed very familiar to me, due to the fact that most of the “announcements” had been leaked or rumoured for the past few weeks leading up to E3.

In today’s digital age we are hungry for up to the minute information on whatever topics and trends that interest us, but does some of this come at a cost?

Part of the thrill of watching the briefings held annually at E3, CES, and Apple’s events is seeing what new things ideas, projects, and innovations are in our futures. Now a good part of that thrill seems to be gone thanks in part to message board posts, tweets, and inside sources.

Now I know its human nature to want to know every secret right away, but in a way it reminds me of the days leading up to Christmas and seeing the present under the tree with your name on it and wondering what it could be. I think Part of the joy of Christmas morning was going through those secretive bundles one by one and the excitement of uncovering what is inside.

In short I’m starting to feel that knowing what’s going to happen before the event is like opening a gift to yourself. No matter how good it is, it pretty hard to feel that rush of excitement.

Let me know what you think. As always I can be reached at

Wall Warts Are Like Socks

200px-Wall_wartWall Warts is a slang term used for power supplies (wall transformers) and are the little brick-like devices that come with almost every electronic device. So why do I say they are like socks? Well, like socks, they seem to lose their mate and you end up wondering where it belongs.

Socks have a habit of getting lost for a period of time (typically around laundry day) but eventually show up and can be reunited with it’s mate (or one that looks similar). The same can’t always be said for wall warts. These are the ones that have no identifying information about where they belong and to make matters worst, may actually have a plug that would fit a number of devices. The fact that the plug fits, means it could supply the wrong power (voltage, current, polarity, AC/DC) and possibly destroy your device. (See for some examples of wall warts.)

This is a problem I’ve seen for years and I thought manufacturers were getting better identifying their products. Just the other day I bought a Maxtor 750 GB OneTouch4 external USB drive and it came with a small power supply. On the power supply was this information: “Sunny Switching Adapter; Model: SYS1308–2412–W2 … OUTPUT: +12V 2.0A …” It also showed a symbol indicating that the center connection was positive. The back of the Maxtor OneTouch drive had no voltage or polarity information so if I was trying to match up this power supply to it’s mate, I would be taking a gamble if the plug just happen to fit. This power supply uses a very common power connector and I know it’s fits at least four other devices that I own. I wonder how many devices have been destroy because the wrong power supply was plugged in? Would you take the time to research the power requirements of your device before plugging in an unknown wall wart if the plug fit?

I’ve developed products before and totally understand why manufactures do this. They develop a product that uses a common power source (i.e., +12V DC, 1.0A, positive center) and order an off-the-shelf power supply from China. It cost more to private-label the power supply, so they decide against it to keep down the cost. There is nothing stopping a company from offering a power supply with the same power connector but with a different power output (i.e., +5V, 0.5 A, negative center) and shipping that with a different consumer product. The consumer is the loser when he/she tries to mix and match loose wall warts and with their tech toys.

I do see a trend that I think may help. It’s the move to USB. More manufacturers are using the fact that the USB connector supplies a standard 5.0 VDC at 0.5 Amps. I said I think it may help because a lot of newer USB devices need more than the 0.5 Amps supplied by a standard USB connector (my Zune requires 1.5 A and my Android G1 phone needs 1.0 A). At least you have a fighting chance and may only damage (overheat) the power supply if your device needs more juice.

I would love to see manufactures label their power supplies to help out the consumer. I can’t believe printing and placing a sticker on the power supply to identify the manufacturer before they ship the product would be that costly.

I make it a habit to add a label to every wall wart before I start using the device. I have a Brother P-touch labeler and find it’s very handy (and fun) for things like that. I even add labels to wall warts that has been re-branded because I generally find the information is too generic (i.e. Maxtor) or hard to read when I’m looking to remove a power supply from a power strip under a desk with very little light. (I won’t mention that I have aging eyes too.)

Another reason I do it is because it’s a nice feeling knowing I’m organized. It’s wonderful seeing that little label showing me my Android G1 power supply after digging it out from under a foot-high stack of papers and unpaid bills.

73’s, Tom


Twitter With Your Brain!


That was the post Adam Wilson made to Twitter by using only his brain.  Wearing a special red cap fitted with electrodes that connected to a computer flashing letters, by concentrating on the letters he wanted, Wilson was able to Twit the small message on the screen in front of him.

What this means for the rest of the world is almost beyond comprehension for those of us that regularly type, text, and click to send messages, visit websites, write emails, etc.  What this means for persons with physical disabilities, who have perfectly functioning brains but ill-functioning bodies, is that they may be able to communicate as easily someday as the rest of us do.  And all it takes is a silly red cap with electrodes.  No cumbersome pointing devices held by the teeth or strapped to the head, or custom keyboards that will take the pounding of a fist because the fingers can’t move.

What is even more surprising and exciting about this breakthrough is that it uses two existing products to do its job.  Twitter, of course, already exists and functions well for many people.  The electrode “brain cap” already exists as well, and is still being fine-tuned for work with computers.  Previous work had been focused on using brain implants to communicate, but this work is 10 years or more from any type of fruition.  Using existing products, Wilson, and his supervisor Justin Williams (both work for the University of Wisconsin) made the link that had not been made before.

This is exciting news for those suffering from debilitating, paralyzing injuries, whose brains are able to function normally in all ways except in the ability to communicate.  Hundreds of thousands of people in the United States alone suffer from such disabilities.  These types of breaks in technology can really leapfrog researchers ahead in their efforts to bring accessibility to all.

Stop Giving Me Software I Don’t Need

Every day, it seems, when I boot up my computers, each one wants me to update iTunes and add Safari. It doesn’t matter how many times I say no, and click quit, every day the stupid install window keeps coming back up. And there is no way to permanently turn this off. At least, not that I’ve found.

Java wants to do the same thing. We cannot run the latest Java here at work because it breaks one of our enterprise systems that are critical to business functions. Fortunately, you can remove the Java Updater from the control panel on most machines to make the annoying popup telling you there’s a new install of Java not pop up every day. But every once in a while, that updater seems to reinstall itself on my machine and I have to delete it again.

My annoyance today is the Sandisk Cruzer. It comes with the U3 operating system installed, and self-installs on any machine you plug the device into. This tiny operating system then gives you tools you don’t need, like copy and paste, explore. On a college campus with locked down computers, these Sandisk Cruzers are the worst for confusing students. Of course, you can remove the U3 operating system, but it takes several steps and a geekish know-how, so not everyone who buys one of these devices knows how to remove the operating system so it works like a normal thumb drive. Worse yet, older Cruzers do not allow removal of the U3 operating system, only the newer ones do. Even a format won’t take care of the problem, as the U3 software sits in a hidden file that is difficult to access.

I want software and hardware companies to stop telling me what I need, and trying to automatically install their software into places without my permission. I want them to stop hiding this stuff, make it an option rather than a necessity, and when I say no, it remembers that I said no and never ask me again.

Much of this stuff is a huge waste of time for tech workers that are just trying to get people back up and running as quickly as possible.

Holiday Toys

I’m starting to put my list together for Santa for the holidays. Yes, Geeks can have dreams too!

Starting off, I’ve already purchased some things for the kids, including Sansa 8 gb MP3 players. These sweet little units are as powerful as the iPod without the costly risk of replacement when they get banged around too much. While I would love to get them all iPods, I don’t think they’d survive the hustle and bustle of my teens.

I, myself, am looking at the new HD-capable Flip camera. Sweet at $229 and I could have so much fun with such a thing. I mean, I could do so much important work with this thing. Yeah, that’s the ticket. The Flip Mino HD looks just like earlier versions of the Flip, only it films in HD. It shoots video in 1280×720 720p resolution, wider than the previous 640×480 size, and touts one-click uploads to websites like YouTube, MySpace and AOL Video. You can also upload to Vimeo and, which will actually upload your video in its original HD format. It also comes with cables to hook up directly to your television! How cool is that?

We don’t do video games, so I’m not looking at anything for the Wii or XBox, but I am looking for some great deals on LCD televisions. If I can get a decent one for a decent price, that may also be on the Geeky Santa List this year.

What are you looking at for the holidays?

Everybody’s a Techie…

So the other day I walked into a shop to do some repairs. They had an in-house techie that put together their systems, but had no formal training. The kid was on vacation, so I walked in to fix an important program.

What I found was less than acceptable. The wireless was open, the computers firewalls were off and their data was completely exposed. Further, they were close to a public fairway which means that they get a lot of unknown traffic.

I have been seeing this on a regular basis – people that put their trust in non-educated techies. I lost a job to one a while back. They took price over quality. Later I found that person did something rather scary that exposed the systems and was asked to leave.

I can’t believe how many shops that have free WiFi have open systems. One system I was able to not only see the computers, I could see their POS systems. I was also able to download and upload files.

Did you know if you expose your Credit Card data in any way, shape or form, you will be subject to a $30,000 a day fine. Let me reiterate:

Thirty Thousand Dollar a day fine

I understand you need to cut corners. You wouldn’t fire your accountant for someone who does it every now and then. You wouldn’t take your Lawyer off retainer because your cousin is taking some law classes in college. Why would you do that with your tech?

There is a flip side – I know a few so called “Experienced techies” that I wouldn’t trust with my systems. They have certifications and diplomas to prove they have the knowledge, but couldn’t troubleshoot their way out of a box. A couple of them turned out to be good supervisors.

I also know some kids who come out of the gate and know their stuff. They have no certifications and are still in High School. They have the thirst for knowledge and can pick up new technologies like no tomorrow.

So if you are a company or person that needs help with technology, what can you do? You don’t know how to do that stuff and need to get things done.

Well, unfortunately the only way is to have a little bit of knowledge. Not only a little on the technology, but also what can affect you. A seasoned techie might not know that little tidbit on credit card info and you don’t want to learn of the issue until after the fact (and fine).

A good thing to do is talk to another techie. Ask them if they will come in and look at something small. If a seasoned techie sees problems, you will know pretty quick. Then you can take action.

This is going to be more important now that we can connect any machine to any available open wireless network. Laptops, phones or whatever from inside or outside the building. You might not even know someone is connecting. That is, until your data is compromised.

Blu-Ray beware

China’s answer to next generation optical discs has fnally had its first production line opened and earned itself a new name. CBHD (China Blue High-definition Disc) was developed in China by Shanghai United Optical Disc. It has some advantages over BluRay, mainly in the cost area. It is cheaper to license, and less than one third the cost to gear up a factory to produce them.

The disadvantage they have is the same one HD-DVD ended up with, they have no support from any of the major hollywood studios. This may be less of an impediment to getting a footprint in Asia though. I am sure that a large number of the Chinese movie makers will have no problems with writing to this standard. I am also sure that there will be a burgeoning trade in porting high definition movies to this standard within Asia, despite the illegality of that practice.

Given that the war for the next disc standard will be fought in the PC rather than the home theatre there is still a lot of questions to be answered about how well either product is going to work as a data standard. I would suggest that BluRay will likely have inbuilt restrictions to the way we can record HD content to it, regardless of whether it is fair use or not. If CBHD will allow us to record in HD to it and play it back in any device that might be enough to grab it some marketshare when these discs become mainstream.