Too Much Memory

November 2, 2009

I’ve been having problems with my desktop PC on and off for a while; it kept running painfully slowly and occasionally freezing up altogether. To be fair it is now fairly venerable,  an AMD Athlon 2600+ with 500M of RAM – a museum piece these days. We’ve had it for over five years and a lot of software has passed under the bridge in that time, as well as the suppliers, Carrera, having gone bust a while back.

I’d scanned it for viruses, adware, spyware, all that nonsense, and also ran a full disk check, but all that did me no good. I suspected a shortage of RAM, and a few months ago I replaced the original two 256M DIMMs with three 500G ones of the good stuff from Crucial. At first it looked pretty good and started up really fast, with the exception of a strange pause for  several seconds during which the Windows XP progress bar would stop before restarting and bringing up the login screen. However, shortly after that, strange and seemingly unprovoked reboots started to happen. Windows reported severe errors on recovery, but in unspecified device drivers. I used msconfig to turn off all but Windows services: that didn’t help. I removed lots of programs we no longer use – no good. I tried a different power supply unit – no dice. I disconnected the old internal Zip drive as I know they can be prone to failure – nope.

Then today I removed one of the three memory DIMMs, taking the total RAM down to just under 1G and leaving the supposedly paired slots 2 and 3 populated. Lo! and behold the mysterious pause during boot has gone away, and the machine has not hung up since (touch wood). I’ve re-enabled all the normal startup services and stuff and still so far so good.

Perhaps there is such a thing as too much RAM as well as too little.

I’ve started to look around for a new machine anyway, now that Windows 7 has come out, but as ever the choice is somewhat bewildering, so I’m glad that the current machine seems to have got a stay of execution to allow me a bit longer to procrastinate over the marketplace.

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Hybrid

June 6, 2009

All the Bishes were very taken with the synopsis of a TV program called “Hybrid” yesterday:

A young, man blinded in an explosion, receives the eyes of a wolf in a transplant. Soon, he can see in the dark, but is hunting human prey. How can he be stopped?

So we’ve been trying to come with some variations of our own:

A young man, blinded in an explosion, receives they eyes of a goldfish in a transplant. Soon, he can breathe underwater, but is hunting fish flakes as prey. How can he be caught?

A young man, blinded in an explosion, receives they eyes of a potato in a transplant. Soon he makes delicious chips, but is making humans obese. How can he be fat-reduced?

A young man, blinded in an explosion, receives they eyes of a rabbit in a transplant. Soon he is cute and cuddly, but digging huge holes in the garden. How can the lawn be saved?

A young man, blinded in an explosion, receives they eyes of a mole in a transplant. Bad luck mate.

A young man, blinded in an explosion, receives they eyes of a cockroach in a transplant. Soon he can survive a nuclear attack, but can’t be coaxed out from under the fridge when the light is on. How can he be exterminated?

A young man, blinded in an explosion, receives the eyes of a young man, blinded in an explosion, in a transplant. A bit of a waste of NHS resources, that operation.

Repeat ad nauseam.

Backups and Picasa

May 30, 2009

Recently I’ve started getting occasional disk errors from the trusty PC, so it was clearly time to think about backups again. A while back I bought an external hard drive, but I’d only been doing ad hoc backups by copying files and folders over.

I can’t imagine that it is too contentious to say that Windows (up to and including XP at least) is utterly useless at helping users with backups. With all the stuff we pile on our machines now – photos, videos, music, emails and documents certainly, but also favourites, preferences, contacts, game saves, web history, bookmarks, licence keys, passwords – all this stuff is a nightmare to keep track of, especially when the machine is used by other people.

Anyway, I recently downloaded GoodSync, a program that lets you create copies of important folders on an external hard drive, and then synchonise them with the main hard disk(s) periodically, either manually or on a schedule. It does other things too, but that’s how I’m using it. It’s not free beyond the 30-day trial period, and it doesn’t help at all with deciding what is important, or where important things are (Outlook Express email folders anyone?), but it is good at what it does, and I already feel more confident about getting stuff back if the main disk fails.

Here’s an extra rub too, and another Windows moan. When the external hard drive (USB) is connected, Windows assigns it the first available drive letter. At the time I set up my Picasa backups, it was letter H: so that’s where Picasa expects its backups to go. Today, when I connected it, it became letter G: so Picasa refused (by simply greying out the button) to do a backup. After I’d worked out what was wrong I had to plug another USB device in to create a G: drive first, then connect the external disk so that it became H: again. Awkwardly, when I set up the GoodSync backups, the drive letter was G: so now that expects things the other way round. Aaargh! There must be a better way! These flipping drive letters are years past their sell by date. Will Windows 7 get rid of them? Probably not.

Apparently you can reassign drive letters in XP using diskmgmt.msc, but blimey who’s going to know about doing that? Someone please tell me there’s a way to avoid all this hassle (without buying a Mac or running Linux). I feel a GMail account coming on.

Bish Towers had two letters from the bank on Friday. The first stated that they wanted to reduce our overdraft limit because we hadn’t made use of it over the last six months. This is apparently their "duty as responsible lenders".

The other letter offered us a loan of up to £20,000: approval in less than 30 minutes, nothing to pay for three months. They suggested we use it for a new car, some home improvements, or just to re-organise our finances.

Thanks, responsible lenders.

Amazon MP3 Store

February 5, 2009

I’ve just been making my first purchases from the Amazon MP3 store, having shopped mainly from iTunes Store before. Although it’s not as seamless an experience as iTunes it seems to work well enough once you’ve got the download helper installed and configured with your browser and I will shortly be the proud owner of three new albums.

It’s kind of weird seeing tracks at different prices after the one-size-fits-all approach of iTunes, but after all, why not? You shouldn’t necessarily expect to pay the same for a brand new track and one that’s years old. It will be interesting to see if this puts any sort of a dent in iTunes popularity. I notice Apple are already pushing a DRM-free, higher-quality version in iTunes Plus (but you pay 20p per track for that freedom: Amazon tracks are DRM free anyway and come at a lower price than even standard iTunes tracks, albeit at MP3 quality).

On the minus side, One-Click ordering doesn’t seem to work on MP3 downloads on Amazon unless I’m missing something, so the purchase process is a bit harder, as well as the download process being a bit less slick. Still, it all loads into the iTunes library happily enough which is a bit of a prerequisite for any measure of success for an iTunes Store competitor I suppose.

My thanks to BishBro-in-law for the birthday gift voucher which has gone towards Portishead, Seasick Steve and David Byrne/Brian Eno. (What a great album title from S.S. by the way – "I Started Out With Nothin’ and I Still Got Most of it Left". Cracking. Reminds me of an old joke: How do you make a small fortune out of writing software? Start with a large fortune.")

I see David Byrne is playing live near here in Spring. Having just been to see Richard Thompson live this weekend, if I went to that as well it would bring my live gigs average up to about one every ten years. Yeah, maybe that would be overdoing it.

Speaking of Richard Thompson (what a clever man he seems to be) I must direct my loyal reader to the Black Cab Sessions, where various artists perform in the back of a moving London taxi. What jolly fun! Look out for Seasick Steve on there too by the way; a truly spellbinding performance.

Anyway, BishWife’s birthday tomorrow so must go and write out her card. The MiniBishes will have to be awoken early to hand over her presents and cards. Bless them; when you stop getting excited about your own birthdays, they get excited on your behalf!

Christmas Cracker Jokes

December 28, 2008

The cream of this year’s crap crop:

  • Why do cows lie down in the rain? To keep each udder dry!
  • What do you call a sick crocodile? An illigator!
  • What bee can never be understood? A mumble bee!
  • What starts with T, end with T and is full of T? A teapot!
  • How do you start a flea race? One, two, flea, GO!
  • What is a duck’s favourite dance? The Quackstep!
  • What is green and goes to summer camp? A Brussels scout!
  • What do you call a train loaded with toffee? A chew-chew train!

Merry Christmas one and all.

Google Chrome

October 11, 2008

Here’s some personal goodies and baddies about Google Chrome, a web browser. Like you should care what I think, because I’m such an expert. You can take issue with any of them but please read the postscript first.

Three things I like about Google Chrome

  1. The Omnibox – It’s way too hard to explain to your internet novice that if they want to search for something they have to type it into one box and if they know the address they type it into another. Chrome only has one box – problem solved.
  2. It’s Fast – Fast to load up and fast to render pages. I’m sure it will slow down as they start piling features in, but just now it’s greased lightning.
  3. Find scrollmarks – When you search for something on a page, not only does it highlight all the occurrences for you, but it also puts cute little orange bars across the vertical scrollbar so you can quickly scroll to the next occurrence. Sweet.
  4. Expandy text boxes – Let’s face it, most text boxes in web forms are too small. They seem to have been designed for tiny screens and now that we have huge ones it seems very painful to be typing a short essay into something only two or three lines deep. In Chrome, you can just grab the handle at the lower-right corner and drag it bigger. Yum.
  5. Sorry, that was four things, but I couldn’t leave out the expandy text boxes.

Three things I don’t like so much about Google Chrome

  1. Home page/new tab page – It’s a personal thing, but that page that pops up showing your nine most viewed pages when you open the browser or a new tab, plus recent bookmarks, is not a great use of screen space. Your classic bookmarks toolbar is much more information-dense. That said, it’s a great novice feature. Using the history as a guide to favourites, rather than trying to teach folk about bookmarks is neat. But for me – give me my bookmarks back.
  2. Bookmarks – Because of this preference for browsing history, bookmarks seems to be relegated to also-rans in the “Other bookmarks folder. They were mine! I took a lot of trouble to accumulate and organise them! Give me a bit of respect!
  3. Flakiness – on the whole it deals with most websites well, but on some sites establishing persistent connections, like online banking, it seems to have some problems moving around. I seem to get the “session timed out” message rather more often than I do in Firefox. Yes I could log a bug report. No I haven’t.

So? It’s been a good experience for me, especially given that it’s early days. I’ll be sticking around as it grows up.

Postscript: Believe it or not, other browsers are available . They have their own pros and cons which may coincide with some of the above. Feel free to have your own favourite.