Dan's Data letters #136

Publication date: 23-Dec-2004.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.

 

Yuletide upgrade

I'm in the market for a new top-end development/gaming machine (the Duron 600@900 I've got just doesn't cut it anymore - in fact, its failed to start). Something at this sort of level.

I haven't bought a new machine/upgraded for over three years (I installed the Thief 3 demo quite a while ago only to find that a GeForce 2 is now almost obsolete). Hope the above system makes sense - am a bit out of touch with current technology - any tips on what to get from where appreciated.

Gordon

Answer:
As usual, the very top-spec processors are lousy value for money compared with those a couple of rungs lower on the ladder; unless you're getting a sucker to buy it for you, don't get an A64 4000+ when a Socket 939 3500+ is a third of the price.

Likewise, there's no good reason to pay for a GF6800 Ultra when a GT's virtually the same; I reflected on the graphics card choice issue in the last letters column.

Note that one of Aus PC Market's stock systems is 2/5ths the price (note to international readers - these prices are in Australian dollars) of the SecretNet box for barely less performance. It can be upgraded to the same ridiculous hard drive capacity and still be a whole lot cheaper - if you don't have enough data to fill 700 formatted gigabytes right now, then I suggest you buy the drives as you need them; not just because you'll save money, but because drives you buy today and don't use will still be wearing out whenever they're spinning.

Likewise RAM, by the way; it certainly is possible to make use of more than 1Gb of physical RAM if you're running enough apps simultaneously, doing database stuff or scientific computing or whatever, but I've felt no need for more than a gigabyte.

Aus PC Market (who, for people who came in late, sponsor my Web site - but I'm not getting paid for these links) let you fully configure the system you want (including case and PSU and so on), and they'll build it for you, and their prices include Sydney metro delivery, and they won't put an OS on it unless you ask for one, and they're pretty good about warranty issues.

Really, if you're an Australian (AusPC don't ship outside Australia and New Zealand) who can't get just the computer you want from AusPC for about three grand Australian (excluding peripherals like a monitor, although you needn't pay that much for a big screen if your desk is strong...), then I think your desires are excessive.

(Gordon did buy a computer from AusPC, shortly before they closed for Christmas. He managed to pay about $AU4000, but he wanted RAIDed drives and could actually use 2Gb RAM.)

 

Also, I have a 28,000 horsepower car

I had this Philips stereo which sounded really great until the player unit gave up. The speakers are still in order, though, so I tried hot wiring a cheap-ass computer speaker which has a 1000watt amp to the hi-fi speakers, but the sound is terrible. The bass that used to be punchy is totally missing.

Because there are 3 speakers in the wood box (woofer, mid-range, tweeter), I'm pretty sure that there's a crossover in there, and I'm also sure the lack of bass and the overall horrible sound is because of the cheap ass amp.

I'm sort of on a tight budget, and it's difficult to get quality things where I am (Malaysia). Is there any cheap way I can still put these speakers to good use? If I ever manage to make it better, I will only use it with my yum-cha MP3 player, or my computer. Any ideas?

Isaac

Answer:
First up: Those computer speakers ain't got no thousand watt amp. Cheap computer speakers commonly have ridiculous power figures printed on the box; the Peak Music Power Output (PMPO) figures quoted for little midi-system hi-fi units are all outrageous lies with some vague mathematical relationship to the truth, but the figures on little plastic computer speakers are utter fantasy. Better "multimedia" computer speakers are often reasonably realistically specified (see my old speaker reviews here and here, for instance), but little plastic computer speakers and similarly cheap boom boxes and car stereo gear commonly have power specifications that are a few orders of magnitude out. Your little speakers are probably only good for about two fairly distorted watts a side, with a following wind.

That said: Those speakers probably do have reasonably wide-band amplifiers in them, which could drive normal speakers, and a couple of watts is enough to get perfectly acceptable volume out of any full-sized speaker that has passable efficiency. Not party volume, but good enough for most purposes. Back in the days when sound cards used to have crappy little amplifiers built in, lots of people hooked them up directly to old hi-fi speakers and were happy enough.

The reason why there was no bass when you tried this is, I think, probably because there's still a high pass filter in the signal path somewhere, whose job is to prevent bass from making it to the little speakers' standard two or three inch drivers, which can't reproduce it. The filter might be as simple as a capacitor in series with the little speakers (which you've accidentally left in series with the big ones, that don't need it), or it may be part of their amplifier board.

Anyway, the simplest solution to your problem is to get yourself an old stereo integrated amplifier (amplifier and pre-amp in one box; the kind of amp that many full sized hi-fi systems have) or receiver (amplifier and pre-amp and radio tuner in one box) second hand. Something from the early 80s with wood panels on the ends of its enclosure and half of the markings rubbed off the front panel would do just fine, should cost you very little, and will accept line level input from your computer (via a 1/8th inch to double RCA jack cable, which you'll also need to buy if you don't have one already), and hook up to the speakers via ordinary bare-wire spring terminals.

 

Out-smart-alecing attempt

Re your digital video page - a million digit number is called a google - you probably know that seeing how precise you are. A google digit number is a googleplex.

Michael

Answer:
You're thinking of a "googol", and that's only a 101 digit number - 10^100. Google is a search engine, not a number name (although, apparently, "Google" was a typo).

A googolplex is, therefore, actually a googol-and-one-digit number, a one followed by one googol zeroes, or 10^googol.

This doesn't help us understand the really really big numbers that arise when you start trying to think about, for instance, all of the possible 640 by 480 by 24 bit video frames. Merely putting a name to a very large number doesn't help us visualise what it really means. I could say that a number with as many digits as there are grains of sand in the world is called a daniol, but that wouldn't make it any more comprehensible.

 

I think I prefer the porn spam

Respected Sir/Madam,

I have a very informative and educational website on Mesothelioma Cancer and Asbestos (http://www.mesothelioma-online-advice.com). I just visited your site: http://www.dansdata.com/4hercs.htm could be a great resource for mesothelioma cancer researchers and patients, on that page.

I feel my website would complement the other Mesothelioma sites listed on that page. This is because my site combines latest mesothelioma news with detailed scientific information such as mesothelioma symptoms, treatments, doctors, asbestos exposure, etc. This, i believe will definitely provide more information about the cancer, to your visitors.

I would really appreciate if you insert a link to my site from your page: http://www.dansdata.com/4hercs.htm

Here is my site info:

Mesothelioma
This comprehensive Mesothelioma research guide offers topics ranging from Mesothelioma symptoms and treatments, latest news and developments as well as attorney and legal information.
http://www.mesothelioma-online-advice.com

Anything else i can do such as a link in return is most welcome.

Thanking you in advance,
Abdulrasool

Answer:
Full disclosure: I didn't actually send an answer to Abdulrasool. And, in his defense, my old review of some Hercules speakers and sound cards does contain the word "mesothelioma". That word's even linked to something.

That, however, is the extent of that review's value as a "resource for mesothelioma cancer researchers and patients", as anybody who actually did visit my site, as opposed to run an automated word-finder and bulk-mailer, would be able to see.

Abdulrasool (if that is his real name) is a link farmer - a person who runs a site (probably several) that doesn't have much actual content, but links to umpteen other sites, which if they all link back again will, allegedly, produce artificially inflated search engine popularity ratings for everyone involved in the scheme. The link farm generally has some profit avenue of its own, too - kickbacks from referrals to ambulance-chasing lawyers and questionable medical practitioners, in the case of sites like Mesothelioma Online Advice. It gets lots of traffic because of the squillions of links leading to it, and the sucker-money flows in.

That's the theory. And it's not that bad a one, I suppose; it certainly beats the heck out of those Rolex spammers that try to tell me Tupac Shakur wears their products.

Abdulrasool's offer was unusual. Most of the link exchange spam I get is from link farms whose actual stated purpose is "search engine optimisation"; they're not even pretending to be some kind of directory. And then there are all of those lame computer-parts link farms that're trying to make money off affiliate deals, and associated IT-related things like the guy who's just e-mailed me for at least the third time under the impression that "my site offers DVD copy backup burner ripping software DVD players in UK" is the kind of statement that's going to make me think he's cool.

I could link to many examples of these kinds of farms, but I won't. That's because while Google doesn't really care if a link-farm site links to you, it pays attention if you link back, and downgrades your page rating as a result.

That's right, kids; if you actually take these link-farming timewasters up on their link swap offers, your Google rating will fall, as will your rating at any other search engine that (sensibly) negatively weights obvious undeserved-traffic-attracting schemes. You may get a few referrals a month from the farm, but you'll lose far more from search engines. About a seventh of this site's total traffic comes from http://www.google.com/search.

All this is not news, but I'm getting more and more link farm spam, so I thought it was worth mentioning to save any of you readers from search engine oblivion.

(I can't fault Abdulrasool for his commitment to the link-spam cause, though. This page first went up at the end of 2004, but now it's early February 2008, and Abdulrasool just sent me two copies of a link request for a new site he's running! The text of the each request was exactly the same as his spam from 2004, and he still wants links from my review of those long-since-obsolete Hercules audio products.)

 

Another incredible opportunity!

Dear Daniel Rutter of dansdata.com,

I would like to offer you an incredible opportunity to increase the daily revenue of your website(s) without disrupting any of your current income producing programs.

realTEXTads is a web based contextual keyword platform that will highlight relevant keywords on your web pages. If and when your visitors choose to mouse over any of the highlighted words a small message box with a brief description of an advertiser appears.

realTEXTads advertisers buy these keywords on a CPC basis. These keywords are already in the existing content on your website(s). When your viewers click on these words you are earning money. This is a unique and subtle form of advertising that does not annoy your visitors.

realTEXTads is simply a NEW source of daily revenue for your business that does not interfere with your other advertising or profit generating centers. Once you have become an approved publisher, a simple line of code is sent to you via e-mail. It takes about 3 minutes to install with our instructions and the highlighted words appear on all of your website(s) pages. We issue commissions on a monthly basis and they accrued in realTIME.

Our customer service and support team is always available to answer all of your questions.

For more information visit http://www.realtextads.com/publishers.htm

If you are interested in joining the realTEXTads affiliate network, go to http://www.realtextads.com/pub_signup.php

I hope that realTEXTads has captured your attention and that we can do business together in the future.

Sincerely,

Juliette Broglin
Marketing Coordinator

63 Warwick rd
Stratford, NJ 08084
(856) 637-2610
Juliette@realtextads.com

Answer:
I wasn't optimistic about this latest "opportunity", because I've seen these kinds of auto-generated text link ads, and they suck. Vibrant Media is the big name in this market; their distinctive double-underlined links are well known for not being in the slightest "relevant", "subtle" or indeed "not annoying".

Since Vibrant have been around since 2000 and the realTEXTads domain was only registered in February 2004, I don't think their version of the idea was ever "unique", as I'm sure Juliette well knows.

Because I hate to miss out on an argument, I went on to check out realTEXTads' little example page.

I just stared at it dumbly for a moment before I realised that the realTEXTads code doesn't work in Firefox (neither did Vibrant's, I think, but they seem to have fixed their code now, dammit). I ieviewed the page.

I don't know whether realTEXTads' demo page has the same dynamic nature as other sites that use these systems - their links and link sponsors change as the advertiser base changes. In any case, when I checked, "rebate", in "rebate check", linked to a "free scratch and win game".

What's that got to do with a tax rebate? Beats me.

"Debt" linked to "Term Life Insurance Quotes". That has nothing in particular to do with debt, unless you stretch it to say that saving yourself money on something counts, in which case a Costco ad would be just as relevant.

"Happy" and "single" in "my friend is happy being single" linked to one of those "online consumer survey" earn-one-cent-an-hour sites, and reunion.com, respectively. I'd characterise those links as "very bizarre" and "quite bizarre", respectively.

Oh, and then "date" at the end of the sentence was linked to the same online survey link as "happy". Nooooo, that's not annoying or irrelevant; how could anyone think it was? And subtle, too! Red words that link to weird random Web sites, often scammy in nature? What could be subtler?

And this, presumably, is the best they can offer. This is their showcase page. What'd realTEXTads do - look at Vibrant Media's garbage and say "I bet we could make something JUST as awful!"?

Crummy banner ads and popups are one thing; I run 'em, but I also block 'em, and I encourage my readers to do so too if they're annoyed by them. Stupid inline link-ads are more difficult for regular users to intercept than the ads I run so I can pay the rent. You can block (at least some of) Vibrant's ads, in any browser, by adding a bunch of entries to your hosts file; this one has 'em already, but not all pre-rolled hosts files do. You can also block these kinds of ads with a bit of mild Firefox hacking. RealTEXTads seems to serve its ad-showing scripts from the same domain as its main Web site, not the various and assorted other domains and subdomains that most ad companies use, so blocking its ads will also block its home site. I don't call that a great loss, personally.

I'm happy to note that TweakTown seem to have dropped the Vibrant ads I mention here. Anand is still sucking at the Vibrant teat, though, so IE users who read reviews like this one get the chance to click on "graphics cards" and get an offer of 12 free Napster downloads if they buy an Athlon 64. I just went back and looked again; the dumb links have changed again, so now "...this is not simply a driver-based software solution", talking about using system RAM for video memory, has "software solution" linked to JBoss, an open source enterprise software outfit that's got as much to do with the subject of the sentence as John Deere has with a sentence about sports cars. Why on earth do companies pay for this crap?

I asked Juliette (who, by the way, sent her original message to my domain registration contact address, not to dan@dansdata.com; ain't that always the mark of an upstanding on-the-level operation?) why she was still working for this obviously disastrously defective company.

Surprisingly, she replied. She didn't answer my question, but she did say that their program was new, they're refining it, blah, and "while some of the words may not be a direct match, this is what our clients want and our sites still make very strong revenue from us on a daily basis".

So it doesn't matter that their program is not, as described, unique, subtle or non-annoying - you can still make money from it, because there are people out there who really are dumb enough to click on any damn link they see, even if it's obviously irrelevant to what they're reading. I suppose the angle is that Web publishers might as well take these peoples' money before the state lottery or a fortune teller gets it.

 

Audiophile knobs

I know you must get some real enjoyment out of sharing the things that lunatic audiophiles do to get OMGWTF awesome sound, so check this out.

Dustin

Answer:
Oh, that's a nice one.

Remember - "hearing is believing"!

So do what the voices tell you!

Do it!

Now!

If you want to ask me a question, feel free - but please read this and this first.

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Give Dan some money!
(and no-one gets hurt)