Dan's Data letters #169Publication date: 1 July 2006.
Last modified 03-Dec-2011.
You also need fresh blinker fluid, and your muffler bearing's worn...
After reading this piece on TheTechLounge about GoldenRAM's UpgradeDetect utility, which is supposed to automatically tell you what you can upgrade on your computer, I figured I'd give the thing a try.
It suggested I upgrade to something called "VirusFree RAM", which is coincidentally sold by the GoldenRAM company.
I haven't noticed anybody else talking about the terrible danger we all face from viruses because our SPD chips aren't write protected. Is that just because nobody else sells them? Wouldn't the anti-virus companies still mention it?
Intrigued by this, I violated my own loose rule against following the recommendations of any site that uses those idiotic "contextual" link-ads (yeah, we all want the phrase "GoldenRAM amassed a rather sizeable database of RAM" to link the word "database" to a preview of SQL Server 2005 - thanks, Vibrant Media!), and tried UpgradeDetect myself.
It recommended I replace every
tooth in my head module in my PC with VirusFree RAM too, and once again linked me to
that page which, with Plenty of Capitalisation of
Important Words which are not actually Proper
Nouns, explained why I'd better buy my RAM from them or else.
Unfortunately for this theory, though, there is indeed no known virus that actually does corrupt the SPD data.
Corrupt SPD data can indeed cause a computer to fail to start, but this is a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of problem. If it accounted for more than one in every hundred thousand RAM-related failures-to-proceed, I'd be very surprised.
Even when the SPD data is wrong, the standard behaviour for many PCs for years now is that they detect when they fail to start, and on the next startup either automatically or at your option (if you hold down Insert, for instance) start up with the CPU and RAM set to the minimum possible speed, ignoring the speed the components say they should run at. Then, if and when you figure out that it's the SPD data that's at fault, you can set the RAM speed manually in the CMOS setup utility, which is less than totally straightforward but which also beats buying all new RAM.
You'd still think there'd still be some hardly-ever-found-in-the-wild virus from 1999 that overwrote SPD information, but as far as I know there isn't. The occasional utility, yes, but no malware. All these years, and not a sausage.
Since malware these days is more and more about making money for one miscreant or other, this isn't entirely surprising. In computing as in the real world, viruses that kill their host are not very successful.
Apart from the RAM thing, all of UpgradeDetect's other recommendations for my computer were either flat-out wrong or at least highly misleading.
UpgradeDetect likes to give you a short list of some generic items like CD and DVD drives, which implies that its psychic powers have determined that only those drives will work in your computer. That's rubbish, of course; it should have a little block of text there that tells you that pretty any drive on the shelves today will work, and then maybe recommend a couple of resellers or particular products if it really has to throw someone a bone.
The high point of the rest of UpgradeDetect's recommendations was its confident suggestion that I upgrade my video card to one of five options, one of which was slightly faster - a 7800 GTX instead of my current GT, which upgrade is in the running for World's Dumbest. The rest of the cards suggested varied from somewhat slower than what I've got to far, far slower; those suggestions are thus disqualified for the World's Dumbest Upgrade competition, on account of not actually technically being upgrades at all.
It's been about a week now since I ran that first scan, so I just tried UpgradeDetect again to see if these problems had been rectified.
A utility that does what the GoldenRAM one says it does would be a good thing. The corporate version might be useful to someone right now, given the chaotic IT departments of many businesses, and some of the promises for the future sound interesting. At present, though, I don't know exactly why TheTechLounge gave it such a highly complimentary review.
In your M4 Mini Monitor review, you have this line about 4/5 of the way down:
"All things being equal, 50 watts only sounds twice as loud as five watts, which only sounds twice as loud as 0.5 watts."
In assembling my own home theater project, I've read that +3dB is perceived as twice as loud, and that increasing volume by that amount doubles the required power. So if you had an 85dB/w/m speaker and a 65W RMS amp, you could expect something like 103dB.
The line as written gives the impression it's a factor of 10 instead of 2. Or have I misread it?
No, you haven't.
A 3dB increase is twice as loud, in that increasing the level by +3dB by definition means twice as much audio energy is now being pumped into the room - well, actually 1.995 times as much, thanks to the wonders of logarithms. But the human ear's response is also logarithmic, so twice the energy does not sound like twice the volume.
There is, of course, no clear point where anybody's going to say "ah, that's now precisely double as loud as it was before"; there's no little mental VU-meter needle. But the general rule of thumb is that people tend to call a 10X, or 10dB, increase in audio power "twice as loud", if you insist that they indicate such a point. This is backed up by neurological studies.
Every little 1dB step along the way, though, is noticeable (the general rule of thumb is that people can consciously notice a 1dB volume change, though a somewhat smaller increase in volume commonly causes people in both blind tests and hi-fi stores to think they're now listening to a better system...), and having a whole lot of amplifier watts on call makes sure that you've got headroom for sudden loud events, and enough power to make the subwoofer shake the floor correctly.
For the majority of people's purposes most of the time, though, big amp power is a waste of money.
I always heard that British people were strange. Yes, they drive on the left. Yes, they use much-harder-to-mentally-calculate miles than SI kilometres.
But this is plain stupid: You need a LICENSE to catch TV signals that are free lurking around in the air?
What's next? Charging for FM radio? For the air that we breathe?
If you want non-commercial TV stations, you have to pay for them somehow.
National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service in the USA (and a couple of other services there) have pledge drives where they beg for money. Where I live (and where we also drive on the left, at least when the police are watching), the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is funded by the taxpayer. If you pay Federal tax in Australia you pay for the ABC, even if you don't have a TV.
The UK system dates back, in radio-license form, to 1904. It currently provides the BBC with around three billion pounds per year, out of their 3.8-billion-pound total budget.
Many other countries have TV and/or radio licensing.
Of course, you can argue that public funding for TV stations is unjustifiable. It's debatable whether shows like Top Gear or anything David Attenborough's ever done could have made it to production on a commercial station, though.
South America isn't big on public TV, Brazil (where Claudio lives) definitely included. It would be churlish of me to suggest that this could explain why, despite the fact that Brazil has 85% of the UK's PPP GDP, its principal contribution to the world's TV library has been soap operas.
If you are using a 35mm DSLR, what lens will give you the same results as what others have suggested are view cameras? In English, what 35mm DSLR lens could shoot results as nice as those on these Web sites?
I'm trying to avoid macros like the 50mm, 60mm or 100mm from Canon or the 60mm, 105mm macros from Nikon, and really want to know if the Canon EF 16-35mm L USM Lens and Canon EF 135mm could enlarge the jewellery products enough and also give all the benefits the other lenses offer for portraits and travel, besides product photography.
It's not the lens, it's the lighting.
Upmarket product photography is indeed often done with expensive medium- or large-format film cameras (or staggeringly expensive medium-format digitals), but that's mainly just so that the end result's got tons of resolution. Big bendy cameras with a bellows in the middle give lots of movement possibilities (like this, only not all fuzzy), but not a lot of product photography needs that.
If you're happy with the resolution of a modern DSLR - which is more than enough for most applications - then all you need is that, and any lens of reasonable optical quality that's got a field of view to suit whatever it is that you're photographing. If you want really pin-sharp results, then a prime (non-zoom) lens is a good idea; you probably won't need very large apertures from it (close-up shots need a small aperture setting to get enough depth of field, as I explain in my interminable photo tutorial), so it needn't cost you a whole lot. Canon's inexpensive little 50mm f/1.8, for instance, will give great results for a lot of product shots, and you can use it for macro shots with an extension tube too.
If you're photographing small jewellery, you really should get a proper macro lens, but that needn't cost you much. My Cosina/Phoenix/whatever 100mm macro (mentioned here and here) sells for about $US140. Note that almost all "macro" lenses (though not this weirdo) are also perfectly capable of focussing to infinity, so you can use them for general photography too.
Honestly, though, a consumer zoom stopped down to f/8 or something will do fine for most shots. If you need macro, add an extension tube or screw-on close-up magnifier (either of which will, while it's attached, prevent the lens from focussing to infinity). Easy.
The tricky bit is the lighting. Usually, product shots of shiny things require you to "tent" the item you're photographing - put it inside a white fabric tent with a hole for the camera lens. You light the tent from outside with strobes or hot lights or whatever, and it gives you a nice diffuse light while preventing all of your studio gear from being reflected in the thing you're photographing.
A lot of high-end product photography these days is also Photoshopped within an inch of its life. But it isn't necessarily; back in the days before digital retouching, everybody had to produce excellent results right out of the camera, and bulk product photographers still do that, because even only ten minutes of retouching times 1500 pictures per catalogue equals bankruptcy.
Get the lighting right and you shouldn't need much post-processing to get a professional result.
Or a lot of lemons
I use a six volt lithium "DL223A" battery for my old film camera. The camera automatically advances the film and the zoom lenses so it does draw some power.
This battery ranges between $15 at Wal-Mart to $18 elsewhere. Is there an alternative battery or an adapter that can slide in as an alternative? A rechargeable one would be nice...
These batteries are $US5 or less each, delivered, on eBay, if you buy a few. Since they've got a ten-year shelf life, that's safe enough.
And yes, rechargeables exist too.
Note that the rechargeable's only rated at 600mAh, versus the nominal 1500mAh of the non-rechargeable version. If you go for the rechargeable, it could therefore be a good idea to carry around not just a spare rechargeable, but a spare non-rechargeable for emergencies as well.
First, you had to check the water glass...
I found your 2001 article which starts "When I first played with a CD writer, they weren't a brand new technology. Not quite. But they certainly weren't accessible."
It would have been perfect for my needs if you had mentioned the year, but unfortunately you didn't.
I'm writing a book and need to know when CD writers were first available. I can't use a CD writer in 1994 if they didn't come on stream until 1998!
Google isn't helping much with history - everyone just wants to sell me a new one.
Can (and will) you tell me the earliest date I can set for this feature?
I can't remember exactly, but I can get close enough.
It was on an Amiga, when I was working as assistant editor of Australian Commodore and Amiga Review (I'm sure you've got every issue - actually, the disturbing thing is that some of my readers have...), and I remember the office we were in at the time (actually, I do believe I played with the CD burner in Jarrod's office; Jarrod is now addressing problems such as how to make a leotard for an egg, having moved on from making laser-printer battlemechs for our magazine covers), so it was probably 1994. The CD-R format had been around for a few years before that - I think the spec was finalised in 1988. But as with other computing technology, that initial date is a fair way before consumers even could buy a CD burner, much less would want to.
This wasn't the very first moment when you could get hold of a burner, though, so there's no need for me to dig through old magazines and find the one in which I reviewed it to pinpoint the date exactly. A consumer with a lot of money could have gotten into CD writing in 1992, but then it still involved Big Gear and enough money to buy and run a quite nice used car. Leaving it a couple of years turned the two-year-old BMW price into a two-year-old Toyota price.
My experience in '94 (or so...) is therefore a good rule of thumb for what the not-totally-insane early CD-R adopters had to go through.
The burner was an external SCSI unit (very probably a Philips, wouldn't bet my life on it though) the size of a shoebox, with its own 80mm exhaust fan, and it of course only worked at "1X" speed. 2X burners were out by then, but it was madness, madness I say, to actually use them at that speed.
The burner also had no "resume" ability - as with all burners for several more years, if the burn was interrupted, you made a coaster. This mattered a lot more then than it does now, not only because burning a full "74 minute" 650Mb CD ("80 minute" 700Mb CDs wouldn't exist for some years) took 74 minutes plus the very non-trivial lead-in and lead-out time, but also because blank CDs then cost quite a bit more than dual-layer blank DVDs do now. And nobody buys dual layer DVD-Rs today, because they're far too expensive for only 8152Mb of storage.
Using the burner also monopolised the computer, even if it was a true-multitasking system like the Amiga 4000 Jarrod used to reduce render times to a single-digit number of weeks. You could do other stuff while burning a disc, but it was really asking for trouble, and the abovementioned expensive consequences meant you just started the burn, crossed your fingers, then went away and did something else for an hour and a half. And then maybe came back to a coaster anyway, even if you ran a simulated burn first (another hour and a half!) and it said that everything was A-OK.
On the plus side, those terrifyingly expensive discs were pretty good quality. There were no Taiwanese factories churning out billions of ten-cent knockoff discs, so people were commonly using stuff like Kodak gold media, which are quite likely to still be legible today.
So '94 would definitely be a safe year for you to use in your book, but not if you're saying some regular Joe made 100 CD-Rs then without using a big old chunk of his life, and life savings, to do so. It still wasn't really technology for normal users at all, no matter how much money they had (well, unless they had enough money that they could just make Fotherington the butler do it).
Here are more gory details about the history of CD-R.