Archive for December, 2009

It’s Starting to Sound a Lot Like Linux Part II: Purchase and Set UP

December 30th, 2009 Comments off

Well here we are post Christmas, pre New Years. Happy Holidays!

If you read my last post you know I set out to find a small-form factor PC on a tight budget, as well as upgrade the CPU for my laptop computer.  And I did: the upgrade CPU cost me $30, and I found a seller on eBay who was offering a small PC with an atom dual-core processor, 2gb memory installed, an optical drive, all for $150.  This is from Tom Abel at The Independent Computer Lab.  Tom was originally offering the box for a bit more, but since I don’t need a hard-drive or an OS he lowered the price, and he wants to get his business going and get some reviews, so he offered a steep discount.  I had done quite a bit of research on the Intel Atom Dual Core;  I was convinced after about a week of off-and-on research that for my purposes the device that Tom was offering would be enough.  Not a screamer, not exactly cutting edge, but enough.

Tom responded quickly to my request for information and specs, and we worked out a deal.  Tom was quick to grasp what I was after, and in fact he had a Linux box auction going on eBay right after we started corresponding (even though he, by his own admission, is not a Linux guy). He also followed up with offering to supply the HDD at a low price, but with all the network storage I have it was not needed. Plus I wanted to experiment with setting up a simple device driven by a USB flash drive.  We’ll go over that in Part III.

There are a couple of things to keep in mind as we go forward here: one, life is not very convenient, and secondly, Tom’s business model is to deliver an assembled bare-bones small form factor PC.  More about business models and opportunities in Part III.

So the stage was set: get the PC from Tom, set it up (keyboard, mouse, LCD), power it up, boot off the Kubuntu CD, and optimize as needed.   Then install the new CPU for my laptop (the sequence was meant to insure I had at least one computer alive in case one got bricked).  I have to say I was pretty excited.

Tom had the PC delivered within 3 days (Tom covered the shipping costs).  As it so happens I was having a working lunch with my local partner so we decided to get the box up and running.  He happens to be a Linux expert, so I figured it would be good to have him helping out.

The first thing we noticed was the memory had not been installed, which was no big deal, but we also noticed we couldn’t get the CD drive to open.  We discovered that the case was malformed — the optical drive simply would not fit correctly in the opening allowed.  We also noticed the wrong screws were used to lock the optical drive into place.  I figured I could solve the case problem later, so we simply set the front cover aside and booted up using the Kubuntu CD.  Which worked: the unit was in fine working order as near as we could tell.

Remember what I said about life being inconvenient? So be it.  My response was, and is, given that life is full of problems the main thing is responding effectively and appropriately.  I gave Tom an update on the situation, and he apologized and explained that he hadn’t tested the system because, unlike the others he sold it didn’t have a HDD (e.g., no OS).  He used the wrong screws because he didn’t have the right ones and he wanted the unit to be shipped to me as quickly as possible.  Which I understood; how the manufacturer could goof up a standard like a case cover is beyond me, and had that not been the “case” (ha!) the screws would never have been seen. (As it happens I found the correct screws in the accessories).

Like I said, it’s all about appropriate responses.  I was still OK with everything; a bit behind schedule, but that is nothing new.

So I filed the front case cover to accommodate the optical drive, got it to fit just fine.  (took about 10 minutes, it’s plastic, just had to be careful to vacuum everything carefully as I went).  Booted back up with the CD, did a bit of surfing using Konquerer,  and got happy again.  Next step: use the Kubuntu USB boot wizard to create a USB boot drive.   (Another topic that required a bit of time to research: but the end result is that the Kubuntu team created a wizard to format and install the OS to a flash drive).

Well, when I went to reboot the PC, it wouldn’t. No beep, no fan, nothing.  I could diodes lit up, but nothing useful.  I didn’t see any loose wires, nothing out of place.  I spent about an hour looking at it, reading various web pages, hoping to discover it was some simple thing.

Tom and I exchanged a couple of emails, and concluded that the unit was dead.  He sent me a replacement, which arrived in a couple of days (again he paid the shipping).

The new unit had a slightly larger from cover opening, so I was able to squeeze in the optical drive.  Once the memory was installed, the unit booted right up.  I’m using it now to write this post.

The sum total is this: Tom Abel delivered as promised, and responded quite well to a bad situation.  He stepped up and did what was needed, with no complaint or equivocation.  My 11 years at HP included reading lots of research on satisfaction, and everybody — HP, Dell, Gateway, IBM — took their fare share of dissatisfaction.

Would I recommend Tom Abel? Sure. I give him 5 out of 5 stars for customer service, and 3 for the product.  I’m guessing the mistakes we’ve seen won’t happen again.  What I also recommend, which is what my blogs are about, is to your research first.  Look around, ask around. If you can’t deal with a bare-bones computer, pay the extra $100 and buy a brand name.  For me that $100 was an important savings.  (More about why that is important in Part III).

The unit Tom sent has been up and running for several days; I installed Firefox, Thunderbird, got a printer set up, figured out to access the network storage. It’s not perfect, but it’s working.  Right now Tom and I are working on finding a simple way to update the BIOS (simple on a DOS machine, not so much in this case).

My next step is to install the Dothan CPU into my laptop.  With that, I will have (essentially) 2 new computers for less then $200, plus the cost of a keyboard and some spare parts.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by!

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It’s Starting to Sound a lot like Linux Part I: the R&D

December 28th, 2009 1 comment

Well I hope everybody had a great Holiday Season!  It’s still going on for me; I don’t call it quits until January 1.  Among other things I wanted to get done in the new year was to upgrade my computer systems.  I’m running a Presario notebook, an HP Media Vault, and a Slimserver across a simple network using a Linksys router.  Not much to it really.  But the old notebook, never very fast, seemed slower and slower.

As it so happens I’ve been wanting to transition to Linux for quite a while (several years) but for various reasons didn’t.  Mainly because my work environment was Windows, and so over time it became somewhat scary to think about switching.  Friends of mine had been telling me for years to make the switch “cold turkey”.  I tried various CD-Boot disks, thought about creating a dual boot system, etc.  What I really wanted was a dedicated Linux box, and a dedicated Windows box.  But I was afraid of the price.

But I kept thinking about it, and since I was already using one Linux device (the Slimserver), and another (the HPMV), and they were rock-solid (the HPMV has been up for a year with no downtime except once, the other day, when I accidentally unplugged it), and I am rebooting Windows every day to start fresh, and the Linux guys just seem to having so much fun, I felt I had to do something.

So I decided to start using as many Linux applications on Windows that I could find.  First Thunderbird (and the Lightning extension), and then the Sun OpenOffice Suite.  And of course Firefox.  So I had all the basics going with respect to office productivity, no reason not to switch. Right? Well I just was not going to do it. I had iTunes, I had other things, whatever.

So I thought well I’ll get a new computer and use the old one as a Linux box.  Then I said, well, why not buy a used laptop? Something still useful, something that had some life left with a bit of care and an upgrade or two.  The bottom line was I wanted small footprint, and better then what I have now.  But I didn’t see anything I wanted, or what I wanted was not available at my price, and when I looked at new equipment I could not find the right balance of price and utility.  Ah yes, the magic product triad: utility, price and availability!

I was stymied.  Ah but necessity is the mother of creative thinking.  I asked myself this: could I get my hands on SFF computer with no OS and no hard-drive, and what would it cost?  I didn’t need the OS because I could install it myself, I didn’t need a HD because I had the HPMV, I didn’t need wireless, I didn’t need a high end device to run Linux, and I was thinking 2GB would work fine.  All this thinking was over the course of the last couple of months.

I went search for a small form factor device, no OS, a basic mother board and CPU.  As it so happens the first thing I ran into was the fit-PC. A neat little device that fits in the palm of your hand.  I saw a few other SFF devices that were contenders, but none were quite right.  About then I got the idea that one thing I could do would be to upgrade the processor to my laptop.  So the Linux box thing took a back seat for a couple of days while I tracked down information on a CPU for my laptop.  This turned out to be a Dothan CPU, which I ordered from MDParts.

Now I had the plan: install the new CPU, set up a small Linux box, and make the transition.  The research i was doing on small form factor PC’s convinced me I could get by with an Intel Atom Dual Core.  I should point out I did hours of reading to nail down what I wanted — doing the research up front saves a lot of headache down the road.

My budget? $200 bucks plus change was the target.  The CPU, being old technology, was cheap ($30).  And I figured I could find a bare-bones deal out there somewhere to fit my needs and budget — and I did!  All that and more in part II!

Have a great day, and thanks for stopping by.

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PlumbBob goes sideways for a wine from downunder part II

December 20th, 2009 Comments off

You may recall last week I wrote about tasting the 2004 Schild Estate Barossa Shiraz.  Quite an experience.  Among the important points was that the 2004 was intense, somewhat like a Zinfandel, while also having some of the elegance of a good Pinot, with hints of Roses, Chocolate, Vanilla, Tobacco.   Like many big wines, it had a port-like feel to it.

I wanted to follow up with the 2005 while I could still remember the 2004, so my wife and I invited our erstwhile friend and tasting champion for a second go.  Same venue: good food, music, friends and wine.  This time pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes, and a salad.  I rubbed the pork with some Herb De Provance and a bit of brown sugar, wrapped it foil to keep in the flavors.  The potatoes were quartered lengthwise and basted with olive oil.  All in the oven at 380 for 40 minutes and there you have it,  toss the salad, and PlumbBob is your uncle.  And of course don’t forget the baguette and triple-cream Brie.

As last time the wine was tasted blind.  But with a difference: our friend brought along a Cabernet — Martellotto 2006 Reserve, Paso Robles.   This added quite a challenge, even though we knew in advance the identity of one wine (of course I knew both, but you’ll see what I mean).

The Martellotto is a great cab.  I didn’t look closely at the label before I tasted; by glancing briefly at the back label I took the wine to be from Italy (rather then Paso Robles).  It’s not all that rare to get a foreign wine labeled with the varietal these days,  and the wine did have that “old world” quality — not super-jammy, or candy like but more earthy, with a hint of roses, figs, and oak. Very balanced (which to me means alcohol, acidity and sweetness all come together).    At only 17 barrels produced it won’t be easy to find.  I did not ask the price.  Serving temperature was ambient (in our house that means 68 degrees F.).

After a bit of the Martellotto we poured the 2005 Schild, which I had decanted about half the bottle an hour before.  Temperature at serving was about 17 centigrade.

The 2005 Schild is a very different wine then the 2004.  By comparison it is muted, reserved, not nearly as big.  It was more like elegant — like the Martellotto.  Had I not known what it was, I would not have made the connection.  It took quite a while before our friend arrived at the Australian connection — Barberra, Sangiovese, Petite Syrah, Cabernet were all suggested.  The Barberra/Sangiovase guess was not a bad call, because around here we have some great wineries producing some very sophisticated Italian varietals (Vino Noceto, Youngs, to name two).  But eventually, the verdict was Australia.

The 2005 Schild Shiraz has the same roses, licorice, vanilla overtones, the same great balance as the 2004, but it takes a while to open up.  And that’s an important point: the 2005 actually does open up, while the 2004 doesn’t, it’s  big and stays big.  The 2005 has a bit of mahogany going on at the rim, so I’m guessing it is at it’s peak now.  I would suggest not decanting it either (the 2nd half from the bottle seemed to hold up better for me).  If I had to pick one and only one of the two Schild’s, I would pick the 2005.  I think it has a bit more finesse.  But of course that is strictly a matter of preference.

I have to admit it gets difficult to taste two really good wines side-by-side, because I find it a challenge to not over-analyze them.  Which gets in the way of actually tasting them!  By which I mean enjoying the flavors.  So we ended up with two empty bottles, wanting more.  Oh well.

Both wines were great.  I started out liking the Martellotto a bit more, but towards the end I came to prefer the Schild.  A tough call if I had to pick only one. Next day’s bottle test didn’t help, as both were still exhibiting wonderful fragrance.  But I would still go with the Schild.

Final verdict on the 2004 and 2005 Schild Barossa Shiraz: the 2004 is Zin-like, the 2005 more Sangiovase like.  The 2004 is intense, jammy (without being cloying), port-like, complex.  The 2004 is more subtle, but has the same flavors, and continues to open up throughout the evening.  Brian McGonigle at the San Francisco Wine Center says he has a few more bottles, but it won’t last.

Thanks for stopping by and Best Holiday Wishes!

Categories: Life Tags:

PlumbBob goes sideways for a wine from downunder

December 11th, 2009 Comments off

About a month ago a friend of mind dropped off a recent copy of the Wine Spectator.   I confess  I’m really provincial when it comes to wine: mostly I drink the local wineries, of which there are several that I think offer great value (Vino Nocceto, Terra Rouge, Revolution Wines, Boeger to name a few).  So typically I don’t chase wines, and typically my price points range is $15-$20 per bottle, with a couple of $10 wines that I think are a great value (a wine from Lodi labeled Reds, and  Sobon Old Vine Zin from Amador).  So I don’t have any particular reason to read wine magazines.

But I have in front of me right now an empty bottle, consumed last night, the nose of which is still so good, so marvelous, that it makes me happy.  Roses, Chocolate, Vanilla.  The wine is Schild Estate 2004 Barossa Shiraz.  A beautiful thing. The bottle is empty, but still very much alive with the presence of wine.  And that is my metric for measuring a wine: smell the bottle the next day.  If it’s intriguing, if it’s alluring, if it makes you hungry, now that’s a great wine.

So  my neighbor dropped off copy of the Wine Spectator.  It had a list of several hundred ratings and tasting notes, which I read casually as time allowed.  Casually, but with an eye towards opportunity,  that being the opportunity to find a wine that might interest me enough to seek it out.  Which was not likely, because like I say I stay close to home. And in any case the WS can be a challenge, as many of their higher ratings are expensive, hard to get, or both.  But buried in there were some tasting notes about a wine from Australia, Schild Estates Shiraz.  Another confession: I don’t like Shiraz, mostly it reminds me of Petite Sirah — not a bad thing, but I think there are better choices in wine .  More then that, I don’t find Southern Hemisphere wines particularly interesting, not Australia, or South America, or South Africa.  Mostly I think they are a bit one dimensional.  So you see I have some really strong bias in play here (some might say preconceived, and myopic, determinations that limit my ability to experience life).

But the tasting notes on Schild hit on every quality in a wine that find worth pursuing: Tobacco, and Cherry, and Licorice.  Did I mention I love a good Pinot Noir?  Well, I love a good Pinot Noir. I love those rich colors, herbaceous flavors, the tobacco, the tea, the leather, the cherry/cranberry, that balance of oak, fruit, and earthy qualities that  great Pinot’s have in common.  The Sierra Foothills don’t produce those kinds of Pinot’s, so I have to go further out: Carneros, Sonoma, Santa Luica, Anderson Valley, and Russian River.  Sometimes France (can you imagine that?).

So you see, when it comes to wines, I don’t like Shiraz, I don’t chase wines very far, I’m in the $10-$20 range, and I’m bit cranky.  A bit difficult to please.

But I read those tasting notes and said you know that sounds like a Pinot.  The kind of Pinot I love. And priced at $20. So I had to lend myself to the chase.  I called my usual wine shops and they didn’t have it (no surprise).  So I went to the Schild Estate webpage, which led me to The Australian Wine Connection, who told me to call the San Francisco Wine Center, aka Big Wines Inc. DBA Indie Wine Co.  I spoke with a gentleman name Brian McGonigle.  By the sound of  his voice, a young man; by his demeanor, an entrepreneur, and by his expressions,  a man who “nose” his wines.

I said, “2007 Schild Estates Barrossa Shiraz”.  He replied, with gentility, and a bit of humor, that the 2007 wasn’t in the country.  However, he had some (the last two pallets no less) of the 2004 and 2005 Schild Estates Barrossa Shiraz, which he said were incredible wines (high ninety ratings from WS).  The price was only marginally more then the $20 I was ready to pay for the 2007, so I said “done deal for the pair”.

The wines arrived as expected, well contained, and cool to the touch. That was Tuesday. I arranged for my wife and I to have dinner with a friend at our house — good food, friendship, good wine. That was yesterday.

I assumed the wine would be robust, still young, full of flavor.  I could have gone with Filet Mignon, but wasn’t in the mood for that.  So I decided on linguine with chicken sausage, a bit of garlic, some caramelized onions, with  Saffron and white wine as a base.  If the Shiraz was balanced, if it were really well conceived, the paring would work.  If not, well there was always dessert and port.

It worked.  The Schild Estate 2004 Barrossa Shiraz is still full of vigor, very young, but very balanced with licorice, tobacco, and cherry/vanilla  (in that order), and a smooth hint of cayenne on the finish. A very complete taste every time.  The nose was really enticing — roses, vanilla, cherry.  The oak cooperage really shows here.   I did not decant; I suspect a couple of hours (kept cool ) in a decanter would help the wine open up to reveal something of its future.  Temperature at consumption was probably 15 centigrade.  I would say the acid/sugar blend was correct, but this is a big wine (ripe fruit, and oak cooperage), somewhat like a port.  Now I’ve know that very “port-like”  quality (high alcohol, low acid)  in wines inspires a certain amount of debate, and frankly I think in most cases it is a flaw, but not in this case.  This is a really big wine, with lots of flavor and ambition.

As is my habit with new wines and old friends, the wine was tasted blind.  In those situations I like to ask what varietal, what region, what year, and what price point.   My friend, a man of many such tastings, nailed it right off: he said Zinfandel, which is really very close to what it tastes like. So to advance the game, I said what country, which was a dead-giveaway it was not a Zin, and he said Australia (on a hunch, keep reading), and my wife (who had not ever tasted the wine yet) said, well then it’s a Shiraz.  Had I was!  So I asked, what year?  My friend had recently been to Australia, and understood 2004 to be a good  year, so he said 2004.  He knew me well enough to know $20 or thereabouts was the price point. So now I was completely uncovered.  Nothing left but to enjoy the rest of the evening.

Which we did.  And as I write this, the empty bottle still smells true to it’s past.  Did I mention I still have a bottle of the 2005 yet to drink?  Exactly so.

Best wishes, and thanks for stopping by.

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RecallCheck Version 2 and Beyond

December 9th, 2009 Comments off

Well it’s been a while since my last post.  A very busy Summer, to say the least.  Lots of professional and personal happenings.  Many life events, small and large.  Too much for one post.

For now let’s apply our vertical toolset to RecallCheck and see how it looks.  The first version provided an elegant, if simple, solution to the problem of finding out if any given food item is subject to FDA recall.  Scan a barcode, and query the FDA website.  Easy, fast, and convenient.  The drawback? That version did not give a succinct “yes/no” answer; what it did give back was links to FDA notices (based on searches using a parsed UPC), or a message saying no pages returned.  Simple, but not as useful as it could be.  PlumBob says: a few degrees off of vertical.

So we redesigned RecallCheck, and version two is now supported by a very robust database and a very extensive data set.  We parsed through hundreds of 2009 FDA recalls, extracted thousands of data points, did our own research to track down data missing from the FDA notice, and created a new interface.  PlumbBob says: vertical!

Check it out on the Google Android market.  More details are available at TruNorth, and Agorasys.  And stay tuned, more to come.

Thanks for stopping by!

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