Sunday, 22 April 2012

Marmite for the celebration generation - thanks for the Ma'amite

The latest in a short line of Marmite special editions has been released in celebration of Her Majesty's olden Jubilee 2012.  

And here it is, available in Sainsbury UK.  Unlike the previous special editions there is no indication that the recipe has changed, just the same wonderfully Marmity goodness.

Love and Joy.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Pimp my ride - even if it is a company van.

I have been working at he same large software house for about 14 years now. After moving away from desktop systems in the early '00  the PC policy has been to provide a laptop that is "refreshed" about every 3 years or so. Over the years I have had 2 Dells and most recently a Lenovo Thinkpad T61. The Thinkpad has been struggling under the weight of Windows Xp SP 3 with a full suite of system security and configuration management software. Windows Xp also suffers from progressive slowing down due to registry entry bloat and disk fragmentation.  The system has been struggling with it's hard drive access with almost constant activity. An examination of the process involved show configuration management scans, Anti-virus scans, content index scans, System backups, and software updates. Just once in a while a stuck WinLogin processes nails a CPU core. 

Finally a refresh system arrives and is a bit of a disappointment. The hardware has hardly moved on to an under specified Lenovo T410 and the system image is still Windows XP service pack 3.  Maybe this is a procurement wrinkle but the system is already a year old (manufacture date 4/11), has only 2GB of memory and just 320 GD hard drive.  

This is just not good enough, time to "Pimp my ride" even if it is just a company van. Luckily the Lenovo is easy to upgrade. First up is the memory, adding and extra 4GB to the 2GB already built in is a snap. Unlike some systems memory modules don't have to match so adding 4GB gives a very usable 6GB in total. One screw secures the memory slot cover on the back into which a SODIM memory unit can be clipped in.  

As mentioned the previous system was bogged down with hard drive activity. There is a £110 solution that is revoluionising the hard drive market. SSD drive replacements delivers staggering performance in a laptop system. These plug compatible units replace mechanical storage with all electronics. Think large USB stick but with out the delays.  Traditional hard drives have built in delays apparent with just about every read or write transaction. A typical disk read request sequence goes as follows, send read request specifying number of blocks at certain block offset, Hard drive moves head to select cylinder, Drive waits until disk platter rotates to required sector, read commences.  The sectors pass under the head at different speeds resulting is a speed disparity between different parts of the hard drive.  An SSD drive is all electronic so there is no delay between sequential blocks read wherever they are located in the drive. This no-seek time aspect makes SSD supremely fast in random read situations such as system boot and program load sequences.  The speed of the connection between the drive and system can be fully utilised and sustained.  The random read nature of system scans, backups, configuration checks are all in the sweet spots for SSDs. 

SSDs are more expensive than regular hard drives even when taking into account the Thailand flood factor. About £1 per GB is normal. Having looked at the data on the current laptop I have about 60GB of documents and email. Remembering that that data has accumulated over 10 years at least a desk cleaning is in order. After pushing all the data to an external hard drive and calculating the size of just the last 2 years of material, it will all fit in 30GB.  I went for a 120 GB SDD to allow for increased use of photos and multimedia in the future.  This is a work laptop the photo, music and video collection live on another better endowed system.  If more storage space is needed larger SSDs are available or the DVD drive can be replaced with a traditional drive in a special frame with an external DVD drive used.

The hardware install of the SSD was easy on the Lenovo T410. Just undo the disk drive bay cover screw, remove the cover and pull out the drive. Noting carefully the connector alignment, move the rubber edges over to the new SSD and insert back in the drive bay. Once in place the SSD is installed and used just like a traditional drive.  

The extra memory just installed beyond 3.5 GB would not be utilised by Windows XP due to technical limitations so next up is upgrading to Windows 7 Enterprise.  A fresh install is required with just transfer of documents and email storage. Avoiding the "Transfer all my documents and settings" gives a fresh start losing the past years of bookmark and program baggage.  Windows 7 install was easy as work provided a properly engineered install image disk set.  W7 has lots of useful features such as auto update and auto driver location and proves a much improved all round visual experience. Be sure to also follow the manufacturers update process to bring BIOS and drives up to date on a new(ish) machine.

Finally the last upgrade is to recycle the hard drive into an external drive enclosure with an eSata connector. eSata give much faster connectivity than USB 2 or 3.  The Lenovo has an eSata port ready for use. Using this port as as the backup drive finally gives acceptable backup times, 

All in all these updates memory, SSD, W7 and eSata backup makes a fast and more power efficient laptop experience. At a cost of about 10% of the new supply price I have 300% memory size and 300 % disk speed increase and 100 % less frustration.

Parts used
Laptop - Lenovo T410
Memory - NovaTech 4GB Sodim
SSD drive - Corsair Force 3 120 GB
Windows 7 Enterprise
Esata Drive Enclosure

 Memory Insertion in user accessible slot.

 Disk Replacement

Friday, 13 April 2012

This is one number - but what is it ?

This number used to be really hard to obtain. I used the finding of this number to test cpus on the handling of information. If I got the answer to

echo "maths expression" | bc -l

in a reasonable time frame and the answer to

echo "maths expression" | bc -l | sum


43040 6

The system was on track. So what is the MathsExpression ? First correct answer as a comment gets a £5 Amazon voucher.


Monday, 9 April 2012

How much web tracking does Rolling Stone Magazine do ?

I was just browsing the web and came across the Rolling Stone 500 Best albums. It's an interesting browse and for sure I do have a some of those albums in my collection. What I did notice was that the website would stall on delivering the content of the individual albums for as much as 30 seconds. Being of inquisitive disposition though I would have a dig in and see if I could locate the reason for the stall. Many website pages include advertising and tracking content so it's not unusual to see a webpage load content from other sites. Often those subsidiary sites are the cause of webpage delivery stalls.

The next step was to find the locations of the external web content using the "Activity" window of Safari. The activity window lists all the open web elements in the browser. Extracting the list of web elements and stripping them down to the domain names gives a list of the external web site owning companies. A quick look at the company website shows the business model of the external sites.

I have to say I was a bit surprised to see how may different web tracking and site analysis mechanisms the original web page was attached to.

There are some standard links to Facebook, StumbledUpon and Twitter for social promotion of content. Links for Google analytics, InsightExpression, Chartbeat, Quantics, Scorecard, Advertising, QuestionMarket, Adsonar and Imrlworld tracking the website usage. Buzfeed and Tynt tracks the social use of content. Finally Cloudfront delivers some extra content. These are detailed in the graphic attached. Click the graphic below to see more.

So who was causing the stall ? As far as I could tell it was This was the only source website, from the collection above, that was individually stalling when showing its front page.

I do find it a bit creepy how much tracking, tracing and analysts is done on a simple web content browsing session. Big Brother is here and looking over your shoulder at the newsagents as you mooch free content.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

ANC Halfords - Trusty 10 Speed

Here is why I like my trusty ANC Halfords 10 Speed bike. From a technology point of view this bike bought in 1984 had a bunch of new features that made it cutting edge at the time.
  1. Branding in line with the England's Tour of France challange
  2. Lugless tube welding that gives clean smooth joints where the frame tubes meet.
  3. Cotterless Crank mechanism locking pedals to crank.
  4. Small mudguards that have the remains of the London to Brighton stickers from back when I used to do that event.
  5. Aztec control blocks special compound break blocks angled slightly to the rim giving great breaking in wet and dry.
Good times and is still in use today (see Fitness challange entry). Have had to replace the cog block and a couple of wheels along the way but this bike has been best value for transport money.

Finally a picture of the original ANC Halfords bike upon which this bike was based.