2300 year old Mayan pyramid demolished for road fill abc.net.au/news/2013–05-1…
Using context to compare govt budgets abc.net.au/news/2013–05-0…
Strangely, this all seemed so normal back when I was a child. is.gd/H9OJnc
Stupid mistakes every start-up owner makes is.gd/Mqoy9e
Microsoft reads your Skype Chat messages is.gd/LpEwXI
The Do’s and Don’ts of Picking Technology for Schools is.gd/BzkPPD
How learning to code helps to learn important life skills edsurge.com/n/2013–05-08-l…
A common topic of discussion on computer users’ group mailing lists is advice on buying a PC. I think that most of the offered advice isn’t particularly useful with an excessive focus on building or upgrading PCs and on getting the latest and greatest. So I’ll blog about it instead of getting involved in more mailing-list debates.A Historical Perspective – the PC as an Investment
In the late 80′s a reasonably high-end white-box PC cost a bit over $5,000 in Australia (or about $4,000 without a monitor). That was cheaper than name-brand PCs which cost upwards of $7,000 but was still a lot of money. $5,000 in 1988 would be comparable to $10,000 in today’s money. That made a PC a rather expensive item which needed to be preserved. There weren’t a lot of people who could just discard such an investment so a lot of thought was given to upgrading a PC.
Now a quite powerful desktop PC can be purchased for a bit under $400 (maybe $550 if you include a good monitor) and a nice laptop is about the same price as a desktop PC and monitor. Laptops are almost impossible to upgrade apart from adding more RAM or storage but hardly anyone cares because they are so cheap. Desktop PCs can be upgraded in some ways but most people don’t bother apart from RAM, storage, and sometimes a new video card.
If you have the skill required to successfully replace a CPU or motherboard then your time is probably worth enough that getting more value out of a PC that was worth $400 when new and is worth maybe $100 when it’s a couple of years old probably isn’t a good investment.
Times have changed and PCs just aren’t worth enough to be bothered upgrading. A PC is a disposable item not an investment.Buying Something Expensive?
There are a range of things that you can buy. You can spend $200 on a second-hand PC that’s a couple of years old, $400 on a new PC that’s OK but not really fast, or you can spend $1000 or more on a very high end PC. The $1000 PC will probably perform poorly when compared to a PC that sells for $400 next year. The $400 PC will probably perform poorly when compared to the second-hand systems that are available next year.
If you spend more money to get a faster PC then you are only getting a faster PC for a year until newer cheaper systems enter the market.
As newer and better hardware is continually being released at low enough prices that make upgrades a bad deal I recommend just not buying expensive systems. For my own use I find that e-waste is a good source of hardware. If I couldn’t do that then I’d buy from an auction site that specialises in corporate sales, they have some nice name-brand systems in good condition at low prices.
One thing to note is that this is more difficult for Windows users due to “anti-piracy” features. With recent versions of Windows you can’t just put an old hard drive in a new PC and have it work. So the case for buying faster hardware is stronger for Windows than for Linux.
That said, $1,000 isn’t a lot of money. So spending more money for a high-end system isn’t necessarily a big deal. But we should keep in mind that it’s just a matter of getting a certain level of performance a year before it is available in cheaper systems. Getting a $1,000 high-end system instead of a $400 cheap system means getting that level of performance maybe a year earlier and therefore at a price premium of maybe $2 per day. I’m sure that most people spend more than $2 per day on more frivolous things than a faster PC.Understanding How a Computer Works
As so many things are run by computers I believe that everyone should have some basic knowledge about how computers work. But a basic knowledge of computer architecture isn’t required when selecting parts to assemble to make a system, one can know all about selecting a CPU and motherboard to match without understanding what a CPU does (apart from a vague idea that it’s something to do with calculations). Also one can have a good knowledge of how computers work without knowing anything about the part numbers that could be assembled to make a working system.
If someone wants to learn about the various parts on sale then sites such as Tom’s Hardware  provide a lot of good information that allows people to learn without the risk of damaging expensive parts. In fact the people who work for Tom’s Hardware frequently test parts to destruction for the education and entertainment of readers.
But anyone who wants to understand computers would be better off spending their time using any old PC to read Wikipedia pages on the topic instead of spending their time and money assembling one PC. To learn about the basics of computer operation the Wikipedia page for “CPU” is a good place to start. Then the Wikipedia page for “hard drive” is a good start for learning about storage and the Wikipedia page for Graphics Processing Unit to learn about graphics processing. Anyone who reads those three pages as well as a selection of pages that they link to will learn a lot more than they could ever learn by assembling a PC. Of course there’s lots of other things to learn about computers but Wikipedia has pages for every topic you can imagine.
I think that the argument that people should assemble PCs to understand how they work was not well supported in 1990 and ceased to be accurate once Wikipedia became popular and well populated.Getting a Quality System
There are a lot of arguments about quality and reliability, most without any supporting data. I believe that a system designed and manufactured by a company such as HP, Lenovo, NEC, Dell, etc is likely to be more reliable than a collection of parts uniquely assembled by a home user – but I admit to a lack of data to support this belief.
One thing that is clear however is the fact that ECC RAM can make a significant difference to system reliability as many types of error (including power problems) show up as corrupted memory. The cheapest Dell PowerEdge server (which has ECC RAM) is advertised at $699 so it’s not a feature that’s out of reach of regular users.
I think that anyone who makes claims about PC reliability and fails to mention the benefits of ECC RAM (as used in Dell PowerEdge tower systems, Dell Precision workstations, and HP XW workstations among others) hasn’t properly considered their advice.
Also when discussing overall reliability the use of RAID storage and a good backup scheme should be considered. Good backups can do more to save your data than anything else.Conclusion
I think it’s best to use a system with ECC RAM as a file server. Make good backups. Use ZFS (in future BTRFS) for file storage so that data doesn’t get corrupted on disk. Use reasonably cheap systems as workstations and replace them when they become too old.
Update: I find it rather ironic when a discussion about advice on buying a PC gets significant input from people who are well paid for computer work. It doesn’t take long for such a discussion to take enough time that the people involved could spent their time working instead, put enough money in a hat to buy a new PC for the user in question, and still had money left over.
- Buying Old PCs I install quite a number of internet gateway machines for...
- Buying a Laptop from Another Country Mary Gardiner has written a lazyweb post asking about how...
- IT Recruiting Agencies – Advice for Contract Workers I read an interesting post on Advogato about IT recruiting...
Open Alpine Spaces (fullsize)
I have not been putting photos and links up on my diary from rides and stuff happening in the past year or so much. I really should get back on to doing that. It has made it hard to find the reports when I want to find them.
A group of us planned to try the ride to Kosci in two days again, like we tried in 2010. We had a bit of a route change this time and a larger group of riders.
With two groups of riders and a bit of route confusion at some points we got through the first day pretty well and relaxed into the overnight camp at 3 mile dam again. Day 2 was likely to be harder but more straight forward. We made it through almost to Guthega but ran out of time to ride up to Charlotte Pass and on to Rawsons for the walk to the summit.
The ride is spectacular and has reminded me I should get up to the snow on XC skis again for some more time in the mountains in winter in these areas. I also think if I try this ride again I will ride a bike with gears, the single speed was somewhat challenging often.
Photos and more words here.
Bernadette Jiwa's blog keeps getting better and better and you are probably already reading it. She has a new book on the way. You can guess what you should do.
There are authors and actors who only show up when they have something to sell, who hit the road to briefly entertain us, pitch us and then leave. If you love their work, then by all means, buy it! But the frequent blogger is here for another reason. He or she has something to share and is relentlessly showing up to teach and lead and connect.
If you want that to happen more, if you're getting something out of it, buy the book.
[I actually hesitated to write, "should," because it puts books into the same category as classical music and supporting NPR. No one says you "should" buy comic books or go to action films...
Buying books is actually scary for many people, so they make up excuses about not having enough time or money. The reason that books are frightening is that they might make us feel stupid, or we might get a lousy one or we might end up feeling like a failure for not finishing it. This is pretty common, actually.
I think buying books from consistent bloggers is a little different, though. First, you're probably not going to be disappointed with what you get. Second, it's almost always their best work, because it doesn't feel as ephemeral as a blog post to the writer or reader--it's a far more focused and direct shot to your neocortex. And third, most important, because it's a very concrete form of encouragement (not just for the writer! but for the reader too), one that will selfishly make it likely you get more blogging from the very people you'd like to hear from more often as well as reminding you, the reader, that you're worth the effort and investment.
Plus, when you're done reading, it's a generous act to share one.]
The story of Hansel and Gretel is not actually about Hansel or Gretel.
You are surrounded by examples and lessons and case studies that clearly aren't exactly about your project. There's never been a book written precisely about the situation you are facing right now, either. Perhaps one day they will publish, "Marketing Low-Cost Coaching Services to Small Businesses Specializing in .Graphic Design in the Upper Peninsula for Dummies" but don't hold your breath.
Marketing, like all forms of art, requires us to learn to see. To see what's working and to transplant it, change it and amplify it.
We don't teach this, but we should. We don't push people to practice the act of learning by analogy, because it's way easier to just give them a manual and help them avoid thinking for themselves.
The opportunity is to find the similarities and get ever better at letting others go first--not with what you've got, but with something you can learn from.
And the opposite is even more true. We over-rely on things where the specifics seem to match, but the lesson is obscured by the trivial. Sometimes when we see something happen that we can learn a conceptual lesson from, we instead jump to conclusions that the specifics are the important part.
Remember that the next time you have to take your shoes off before you get on an airplane.
Last time I blogged I spoke about the current stoush occuring in my Federal seat of Throsby between the left and right factions of the Labor party over who was going to be the next Labor candidate (and most likely member).
Well, the final showdown is going to happen on the 15th of June, with the current encumbent Stephen Jones going up against the contender and son of a former state mp, John Rumble.
Now sticking with Throsby politics, I've been thinking about doing something podcasty for the local election. The basic plan is sit down with every candidate and spend 20 - 30 minutes getting to know them, their personal motivations for running, how the policies they're running with will help Throsby etc, etc.
What do you think?Blog Catagories: Politicsillawarrathrosby
At my day job, I run a distributed team of infrastructure coders spread across Australia + one in Vietnam. Our team is called the Software team, but we're more analogous to a product focused Research & Development team.
Other teams at Bulletproof are a mix of office and remote workers, but our team is a little unique in that we're fully distributed. We do daily standups using Google Hangouts, and try to do face to face meetups every few months at Bulletproof's offices in Sydney.
Intra-team communication is something we're good at, but I've been putting a lot of effort lately into improving how our team communicates with others in the business.
This is a post I wrote on our internal company blog explaining how we schedule work, and why we work this way.What on earth is this?
This is a Kanban board.
Applied to software development, the top three things Kanban aims to achieve are:
- Visualise the flow of work
- Limit the Work-In-Progress (WIP)
- Manage and optimise the flow of work
In practical terms, work tends to be tracked in:
- RT tickets, as created using the standard request process, or escalated from other teams
- GitHub issues, for product improvements, and work discovered while doing other work
- Ad-hoc requests, through informal communication channels (IM, email)
Because Software deals with requests from many audiences, we use a Kanban board to visualise work from request to completion across all these systems.Managing flow
As of writing, we have 5 stages a task progresses through:
- To Do - tasks triaged, and scheduled to be worked on next
- Doing - tasks being worked on right now
- Deployable - completed tasks that need to be released to production in the near future (generally during change windows)
- Done - completed tasks
That's only 4 - there is another stage called the Icebox. This is for tasks we're aware of, but haven't been triaged and aren't scheduled to be worked on yet.
Done tasks are cleaned out once a week on Mondays, after the morning standup.
Triage is the process of taking a request and:
- Determining the business priority
- Breaking it up into smaller tasks
- (Tentatively) allocating it to someone
- Classifying the type of work (Internal, Customer, BAU)
- Estimating a task completion time
We use the board exclusively to visualise the tasks - we don't communicate with the stakeholder through the board.
Each task has a pointer to the system the request originated from:
…and a little bit of metadata about the overall progress.
Communication with the stakeholder is done through the RT ticket / GitHub issue / email.Limiting WIP
The WIP Limit is an artificial limit on the number of tasks the whole team can work on simultaneously. We currently calculate the WIP as:
(Number of people in Software) x 2
The goal here is to ensure no one person is ever working on more than 2 tasks at once.
I can hear you thinking "That's crazy and will never work for me! I'm always dealing with multiple requests simultaneously".
The key to making the WIP Limit work is that tasks are never pushed through the system - they are pulled by the people doing the work. Once you finish your current task, you pull across the next highest priority task from the To Do column.
The WIP Limit is particularly useful when coupled with visualising flow because:
- If people need to work on more than 2 things at once, it's indicative of a bigger scheduling contention problem that needs to be solved. We are likely context switching rapidly, which rapidly reduces our delivery throughput.
- If the team is constantly working at the WIP limit, we need more people. We always aim to have at least 20% slack in the system to deal with ad-hoc tasks that bubble up throughout the day. If we're operating at 100% capacity, we have no room to breathe, and this severely reduces our operational effectiveness.
Work makes it way from left to right across the board.
This is valuable for communicating to people where their requests sit in the overall queue of work, but also in identifying bottlenecks where work isn't getting completed.
The Kanban tool we use colour codes tasks based on how long they have been sitting in the same column:
This is vital for identifying work that people are blocking on completing, and tends to be indicative of one of two things:
- Work that is too large and needs to be broken down into smaller tasks
- Work that is more complex or challenging than originally anticipated
The latter is an interesting case, because it may require pulling people off other work to help the person assigned that task push through and complete that work.
Normally as a manager this isn't easy to discover unless you are regularly polling your people about their progress, but that behaviour is incredibly annoying to be on the receiving end of.
The board is updated in real time as people in the team do work, which means as a manager I can get out of their way and let them Get Shit Done while having a passive visual indicator of any blockers in the system.
At a party the other day, I saw a dead TV monitor. On the screen it said something like, "No signal... check power, cable and source selection..."
It doesn't matter at all how hard the DVD player was trying to put on a show. It is irrelevant how good the show on cable was. If it's not getting through, no one sees it.
All of us own our own media companies now. We each have the ability to speak up, to tell our stories, and if we're good and if we're lucky, to be heard.
Too often, though, there's no signal. You may be pumping noise through your social media outlets, but noise isn't signal. It's merely a distraction. You're talking, but you're not saying anything, at least nothing that's being heard.
You get to choose your story. If the story you've chosen doesn't get through, it's up to you to fix that. Pick a story that reflects your work, sure, but also one that resonates with the receiver.
Dear Christina Wilson (Executive Customer Sales and Operations) at Origin Energy
No I will not (re)connect natural gas at my premises. You appear to be (corporately) forgetful.
Only last year I cancelled the gas supply, as it has become everything but natural. As you yourself stated to me, it’s now all Coal Seam Gas (CSG). I don’t think CSG is a smart idea and thus I want no part of that.
Your additional offer to “offset” the resulting CO2 emissions don’t even touch the root problem.
In reciprocation of your looking forward to welcome me, I look forward to the day when you actually listen to your customers rather than just ignoring their feedback and then continuing to send them mail trying plug your products – particularly products they’ve explicitly cancelled. Take it from a business owner: that looks bad.
P.S. I’d write to you in a more direct manner, but even though you sign your letters by name, you don’t actually supply an email address or specific postal address either in your letter or on your website. Phone appears to be the only way to communicate with Origin, but a 1300 number will only connect me to a generic callcentre person, won’t it… not very useful at all.
Today was the second ever state-wide meetup of the Tasmanian Linux Users Group. Historic Ross put on another beautiful Autumn's day to greet us as the dozen of us filed into Ross Town Hall for some freedom loving goodness :-D
Here's some of the notes I took on the highlights:
- Chris Neugebauer opened the day with some piano improvisation.
- Gary demonstrated:
- Using augemented reality spary can graffiti apps with students in St Helens
- SuperTuxKart with modified textures to include sponsors logos for a youth week supertuxcart game arcade console
- Josh Bush demonstrated:
- FLAT which he wrote last year in the 7 day programming comp. An ice-skating first person shooter, available on GIT hub under GPL.
- A flashy new Tux logo which may be pilfered for the LCA2015 bid.
- A CMS he wrote, Para CMS which processes plain text files into HTML.
- Some new Neverball updates (and announced an Android version is coming!)
- Other game art he was working on (I missed that start of that)
- Scott Bragg demonstrated:
- Some of his Raspberry PI environmental monitoring / control systems
- His qube-sat project which is going into orbit later this year.
- Tim Serong and Morgan showed off their awesome home made book scanner
- Henry covered off his Gnucash usage
- Josh covered twolofbees usage of the GIMP and inkscape to produce art
- I demonstrated my use of http://xbmc.org/XBMC, http://gcompris.net/-en-GCompris and http://ikiwiki.info/ikiwiki
- Tim Serong gave his "WTF is OpenStack?" talk
It's only a few bullet points but the day was choc-full of interesting insights into what interesting projects others in Tasmania are using Free Software for.
Thanks every one!
Picked up 60 endemic trees from Huon Farm Trees yesterday and slotted the following in the ground today:
- 15 Woolly Tea-Trees (Leptospermum lanigerum) that's all of them too
- 6 at the entrance, making it a total of 14 out there now
- 9 along the driveway, taking that total to about 30 along the drive
- 12 Scented Paper-bark (Melalueca Squarrosa)
- Planted in a north-south hedge two metres apart on the east side of the dam. Only 33 to go :-)
Earlier this evening we were watching Spicks and Specks after dinner, as is our want. When the Substitute game was on, Hamish supplied the answer:
"It's the theme from Nemo!"
Kristina disgreed but sure enough, the answer was the closing theme to Nemo, Beyond the Sea. Well done little man.