Tires, Tires, and no tires

Because I drive so much for work, I usually go through tires pretty quickly.  I have went through 3 sets of tires on my car. The first set (OEM) barely lasted a year. Because of that I got some Goodyear Eagle GT (P215/60R16 Vrated) tires. Mostly because they had a 50,000 mile tread life warranty. Well these tires only last about 35,000 miles. So when I went to get them changed, I would get a “discount” on the next set.

Well I went through 2 sets of these in the last 4 years (each set lasted approximately 2 years before they were almost bald.) So I had to get new tires this year and previously I had been getting them at Sears. So two weekends ago I went to sears to say I need some new ones. Well they don’t sell them any more and couldn’t get them in either. So they started showing me the other options. One that they showed me was a Michelin tire. I said ok to it, but then when they went to find them, they could only find 3 tires. So the cashier guy said he would put a reserve on 4 and have 4 ordered so they could be put on the next weekend. Fast forward to last Saturday, I go to get the tires put on, and they couldn’t find them. Come to find out, they could only find 2 of them. So either the guy never ordered them, or some one else took them because they didn’t have my name on them, or  who knows what happened.

Anyways, I was pissed. So they said they had some Hankook tires in stock and they were “rated good”. So I begrudgingly said yes and asked how long it would be, to which they said 2 hours. So I went to the mall food court to get something to eat. While I was eating I started looking at tirerack to try to find the reviews of these tires. Surprise, there is NONE. In addition I found that they Michelin tires they wanted to put on where T rated, not V. So a googleing I go, and find that the tires aren’t really “Hankook” tires, but rather Sears private label Roadhandler that just happens to be made by Hankook.  This made me even more furious as i found that they were just started to be made this year.

So I wander around the mall waiting for Sears to call, they never do. So I walk back towards the store and see my car with what looks like new tires on it. I go in to the Auto part and ask if it is done, and they were like “yeah”. (Nice that they called me to tell me, what was the use of giving them my number if they wouldn’t call?)

So $495 later, I leave and get in the car with these “Hankook” tires that supposedly have a 100,000 mile warranty on them. (I sort of laughed at the cashier when he said that, told him I would be back way before the 100,000 miles.) So I take off to hit the interstate, one thing I did notice was the huge difference in noise. The Goodyears were extremely loud. So loud that I usually had to have the radio on volume level 23. With these new tires, I can actually have the radio at 12 or 13 and it sounds loud to me.

So only time will tell if they last and  how well they handle in the rain and snow.

X-Plane 10 and the bugs I hate

Right after Microsoft said they would quit development on Flight Simulator, I started looking for a new sim to fly. One that came up was Austin Meyer’s X-Plane. Some key factors were that it ran natively on Windows, MacOS and Linux. Since I switched to using a MacOS Desktop, this was awesome as I didn’t have to keep booting in to Windows to use MS Flight Sim. So I purchased version 9 of it a couple of years or more ago. While it lacked several features that MS Flight Simulator had and I had become used to (I.e. a pretty nice ATC, lots of AI traffic, nice graphics, etc) it did have it’s own pluses, like running a little smoother and a little easier customizable.

One of the “big” things about X-Plane9 was that a full install was nearly 80GB in size. One of the big things I hated was that there was nearly to no airport buildings at the airports, unless you got a third party download where some one had recreated it. Granted this was cool as it allowed people to create some awesome replications (I did one for Morgantown, WV and Waynesburg, PA). But alas, for over 80GB of install you would have thought there would be the basic airport buildings or at least the terminals in it.. So while I still played with X-Plane, I found myself going back to MS Flight Sim just for the buildings and the ATC (sounds hokey, but it seemed “more real”).

So they finally released a new version of X-Plane, version 10 this year. The screenshots on the internet looked almost photo realistic. So I downloaded the demo, and it had one airport (KSEA) and it had buildings and all. So I was happy to see they had done that. There was also promise of a better ATC, which from some quick playing with the demo was better… So I spent the $80 and bought the full game. and about 6 hours later, I had another 80GB of X-Plane 10 installed (so now I have over 160GB just for version 9 and 10). This is where my “fun” left.

So it seams that the only airport that has the terminal and buildings (that I have been to so far in the game) is the KSEA. Every other airport is just the tarmac, runways, apron, and taxiways, no buildings what so ever. Another “peeve” is the AI traffic. It makes no difference where you are (little municipal airport to a international one) it seems like there will always be a 747, a little single or dual engine prop and what ever plane you are flying, and a 747 in the sky. I don’t know how many times I have changed to a new airport and the AI planes spawn directly on top or under me. It is hilarious to see a Boeing 747 try to taxi around KMGW and try to take off on a 5,000 ft runway.

Another stupid bug with the AI traffic is that I can go and file my flight plan (with the some times working ATC) and then start taxing to the runway. Every single time I have done this, there is already 2 planes holding at the runway, however one AI plane is ALWAYS half on the runway and half on the taxi way. This causes problems as it never freaking moves. So when another AI plane tries to land, it is told to go around because of the AI half on the runway. I sat at KJFK one day for over 20 minutes waiting for it to take off and it never did. I finally “drove” through it and took off. This of course pisses the ATC off and it constantly keeps telling you to taxi back to the runway. So much that the only way to stop it is to change the COM channel.

Since I am on a rant about the ATC as well, might as well mention that some ATC’s in some airports are on channels that you can not turn too. That makes it awesome to try to do anything. In addition the ATC never seems to tell you the frequency you are handed off to, which makes it impossible to do a full hand of to any other ATC.

I have also found that if you go to file a flight plan once you have taken off and screw up entering something in the route box, it will completely crash the application and you have to restart the entire program. Which I am not sure what changed between version 9 and 10, but version 10 takes forever to load. My machine is not a slow one either, with dual quad Xeon 2.8GHz processors, 10Gb of ram and a 3GB/s SATA drive with the application on it.

So until there is some more patches to fix some of these I will be going back to X-Plane version 9 and MS Flight SimX.

Blades and the true hidden cost

So as you may know by now, I am not a fan of “blade” technology, and rather despise it. One reason is that they simply are not as “powerful” as some larger systems. So what is this “true hidden cost”. What hardware vendors won’t tell you is that, while they think that their hardware is powerful and “compact form”, is that software vendors will almost rape you on the license cost. So lets look at a good example.

Say you are building a “cloud” (another word I absolutely hate, as it is just a buzz word some one made up, because “network” sounds so simple) for your company. You decided to go with the “all mighty blades” as that is the “current buzz” amongst the IT industry. So I buy a blade chassis from company X which happens to hold 10 blade’s that each hold 4 processors of 8 cores a piece and 128GB of ram (probably fictitious and not a real world blade). You also plan on implementing a virtualization hypervisor on your blades to build your “cloud”. On top of this hypervisor you will be using multiple different operating systems and various middle-ware. Sounds good so far right, just like any typical “cloud” environment. So now lets look at the pricing:

  • For the virtualization layer, we don’t care about CPU’s, just memory in use. So we have to buy enough licenses to support 10x128GB of ram. Again, not too bad, but as you add blades and/or memory your price goes up.
  • For the OS layer, this seems pretty simple, 1 OS license per Virtual Machine. Probably so far the simplest of all
  • For the middle-ware, now this is where the big bucks come to play. Different vendors license their software in different ways so here are some examples:
  1. Per VM, seems pretty simple, 1 license per VM. Easiest
  2. Per User, probably the second simplest algorithm, assuming you have an easy user base, i.e. all users are internal company users, or all are external users, etc.
  3. Per physical host, the most complex and costly. Why so? Well lets look in to this in more depth.


So in #3 above I mention that licensing middle-ware per physical host is the most complex and costly. Some people may be thinking that I am absolutely crazy by now but hold on to your seats and watch the money start adding up.

Say we have a fictitious product from vendor Y, the licensing of it is $100 per core of physical server, and the vendor of the software does not “recognize” virtualization.  So if we weren’t doing virtualization to license this product on one of our fictitious blades, that product would cost $3,200, as we would have to pay for all 32 cores in the blade. Still not too bad. But here comes the kicker, say that we created a cluster in our hypervisor that contained all 10 of the blades in our chassis. In addition to this, we have determined by usage that to be able to run Y in our environment, we only really needed a VM with 1vCPU and 2GB of ram. In a physical world, if you could find a server with one CPU, then we would only have to pay $100 for this piece of software. In addition if the vendor  Y supported virtualization you would only have to pay $100 to run it. However vendor Y is all about the money, so to run this one software package on your “cloud”, you would have to pay $32,000.

Wow, $32,000 vs $100 is 320% markup because vendor Y doesn’t “support” virtualization. But you are probably thinking, but hold on a second, I know that VM will only run on one blade at a time, why do I have to pay for all 10? Well because your VM has the possibility of running on any of the 10 blades at any given time. So you have to think of it sort of like auto insurance. Say you have 3 cars, but you can only drive one at a time (because you are only one person). But you still have to pay insurance on all 3, because there is a chance that you could drive any of them.

Does this make sense, hell no… But hold on to your seats because it gets even better. The vendor of product Y also make a hypervisor that does the same thing as another companies hypervisor. But the kicker is that if you use vendor Y’s hypervisor which has less features and abilities that vendor Z’s hypervisor, but does nearly the exact same thing (virtualize an OS instance), they will allow you to only pay for the 1vCPU license to run their product. This is just plain wrong, especially when you have already invested in vendor Z’s platform.

So with “cloud” computing being the current wave of IT, why can’t software vendors recognize that nearly 75% or more of most environments are already virtualized or moving to a virtualized “cloud” environment. If they can’t recognize this, then chances are people are going to go else where for their software needs. Because as your “clouds” get bigger the cost is exponential. To see that just use this as an example, the environment above is for a development. Once we go to production, say we have to have 10 chassis of blades, and there is a possibility of that one application running on any one of the 10 blades on any of the 10 chassis. So now instead of $32,000 you end up paying $320,000 for one little application, that only requires a 1CPU machine to run.

But what the hell does this have to do with blades? Well if you used larger hardware, you could decrease the number of physical servers that were in a particular cluster by consolidating even more. In the simplest term building up vs out. As an example say I could replace all 10 chassis of blades with 6 large servers (large meaning that they could hold 512GB of ram vs my max of 128GB of ram that my “blades” do). Now instead of paying for 100 blades with 4 processors of 8 cores a piece I am only playing for 6 servers of 4 processors of 8 cores a piece, a cost of $19,200, or 6% of the cost of using blades.

I leave it to you to see how much you would save by getting rid of your blades …

ReplayTV, TiVo and the general state of DVR’s

I currently have 5 (yes 5) DVR’s for recording shows. This goes back some years, but I have 3 ReplayTV DVR’s (2 with 80 gb Drives, and one with a 200 gb drive that I hacked to get it to work after the original 40 gb drive died in it.). They were / still are great DVR’s. They were pioneers in many ways compared to TiVo. They have built in network connections long before TiVo did. They allowed streaming of shows between units, years before TiVo could. All around they are great little Standard Definition DVR units. Granted they could only record what was on the analog tuner, however they supported multiple inputs so you could hook a cable box to them or other device and record it.

Up until late last year, 2 of them were connected to a Comcast cable box so I could record any channel that I received on the cable box. The third unit was connected just to the cable, so it could only record the analog channels. Well as with the “rest of the world” Comcast decided to drop all analog channels from their cable line up, in favor of the “better” digital signals. (Which they compressed to hell and back….) Anyways, this would have made the one DVR a door stop. However, Comcast decided to give away 2 free “Digital Tuning Adapters”. So I thought this would be cool, I could just hook it up and put it in front of the DVR and be able to record the channels. Well, the DTA required me to “hack” the ReplayTV unit as it (the ReplayTV) did not have the IR codes to control the DTA. This took me a better part of a day one weekend to get working. So at least it is able to record the basic/extended cable line up.

So fast forward half a year, and I turned on the ReplayTV one night to watch a recorded episode of Top Gear [because Comcast doesn’t have BBC in HD 🙁 ] and I see a message stating that:

Important Announcement!

The ReplayTV Electronic Programming Guide (EPG) Service will be permanently discontinued on July 31, 2011. After this date, owners of ReplayTV DVR units will still be able to manually record analog TV programs, but will not have the benefit of access to the interactive program guide. Effective immediately, monthly billing for the ReplayTV service to remaining customers has been suspended.

The industry conversion to HDTV is complete and ReplayTV DVRs are unable to take advantage of the wealth of HDTV programming. Please contact your service provider for current offerings.

What pissed me off the most was the last line: “The industry conversion to HDTV is complete….” Wait just a minute, there are hundreds of SD channels on Comcast’s lineup, that aren’t available in HD. So now all of the sudden I go from having 5 DVR’s to 2. Granted ComCRAP just raised my bill by another $16 a month, so the saving in the lost of paying the ReplayTV monthly fee makes my cable cost go down a little, but this still makes me mad as the ReplayTV DVR’s are still useful and very much liked by their user’s.

Well it appears that some people are trying to get a fix to allow them to continue to work after the July 31, 2011 cut off. One of the workarounds is by using WiRNS and Schedules Direct. Since I had previously set up a WiRNS system to hack the one DVR to get the IR codes in it, I decided that it wouldn’t be too hard to set it up on the new VMware server I have at the house since it didn’t require much processor and disk space. Also the Schedules Direct method only charged $20 a year for guide data vs the $23+ a month I was paying now for the ReplayTV units. (So almost a $260 a year possible savings.)

This is all cool, however there is one thing that hasn’t been figured out yet. That is how to handle the encrypted clock connection on the ReplayTV unit. If this can’t be figured out, then the 3 ReplayTV’s, basically become the VCR’s of the 90’s.

So on now to TiVo. I have had one of my TiVo’s for a year now, the other for about 6 months. Over all it is pretty good, but there were items that the ReplayTV made so much easier that I can’t do yet with the TiVo. For example, there is a Java application called DVArchive that I run on one of my servers that “talks” to all the ReplayTV units and shows me a list of what all shows are recorded on them, what upcoming shows will be recorded, lets me transfer shows from the ReplayTV to the local server and lets me schedule recordings from one web interface to go to the ReplayTV’s instantly. This isn’t available on the TiVo. Yeah I can go to TiVo’s site, but it is some what of a kludge to see the entire ToDo list across both TiVo’s. Also the scheduling is based on the TiVo polling the Internet vs the push of the recording to the ReplayTV.

One of the big things that was missing on the TiVo side was the ability to “stream” between the two TiVo units. This was one of the reasons why I went the ReplayTV route instead of the “mainstream” TiVo route. Yeah you could “transfer” recordings between the TiVo’s, but this could only be done IF the cable company did not set the Copy Protection flag, which nearly every HD and SD digital channel has this set except for the local OTA channels. In the long run, this meant that if I recorded a program on one TiVo I had to watch it on that TiVo, instead of “where I wanted to” like with the ReplayTV’s. Well as of yesterday, this seems to have changed. It appears that TiVo with their latest software update has enabled “Streaming” between the TiVo’s (like the ReplayTV’s had probably a good 7+ years ago). Now you don’t have to “copy” the entire program to the other TiVo to watch it, in addition the Copy Protection flag does not apply to the “streaming” of the video between the 2 TiVo units.

This is excellent news as now I can record a movie on one and then watch it on the other and vice verse with my weekly shows that get recorded.

So you are probably thinking if you are even reading this far, what the hell does this have to do with the “General state of DVR’s”? Well it just shows how some DVR’s are pioneers, some are the “popular” ones and then some are ones that people are just “stuck with”. What I mean by “just stuck with” is those people who are unlucky enough not to realize how good ReplayTV was, or how much functionality the TiVo Premiere’s have VS a “Cable company” DVR. Seeing how I have had all three now for a while, (although I did get rid of the ComCRAP DVR) I would still rate the ReplayTV as the best DVR that I have had. Granted it doesn’t do HD picture, but then again not everything on Comcast’s lineup is in HD. I still use them to record all my SD content and use the TiVo’s only for HD content.

Comcast’s DVR is just plain the worse thing I have ever seen. They only have a 160 gig HD in their HD-DVR which means that after a week of shows, it is usually out of space. Not to mention, there was NO way to schedule anything on it except scrolling through the on screen guide. There was no “searching” for items to tape. No way to save programs. No way to stream it to other units.. Think of it as the VCR of the 90’s with the VCR+ module added in.

Overall I think that DNNA made a bad move by discontinuing the ReplayTV EPG, but I guess in this day and age every one has to way the good vs the bad at some point.

WiRNS (the Windows Replay Network Server) URL:
DVarchive URL:
Schedules Direct URL:
ReplayTV announcement:

Wireless security

Been doing some research lately on WiFi and security of it. So I have been doing some scans and out of the 3,655 WiFi access points I have observed, here is the breakdown on the security of them:

Count Encryption Type
859 Not Encrypted
760 [WEP]
101 [IBSS]
36 [WPA-PSK-TKIP][WPA2-PSK-CCMP-preauth]
18 [WPA2-PSK-CCMP-preauth]
8 [WPA2-EAP-CCMP-preauth]
8 [WPA-?]
2 [WPA2-PSK-TKIP-preauth]

It is amazing that nearly a quarter of them were unencrypted. What was even more interesting I saw a bunch of them on rural roads, so it was almost like “well no one lives around me, so why encrypt it”. So I would ask that everyone, no matter where you live, please enable encryption on your Wifi. In addition don’t use WEP, please use at least WPA and preferably WPA2. If I add in WEP as being basically “un-secured” you have over 44% of the WiFi access points not being “secured”. WEP just isn’t that strong, and with people doing banking and online shopping, you shouldn’t be doing any username, password or credit card info over a open or WEP encrypted WiFi connection.

Another factoid is the preference for WiFi channel:

Count Frequency (Channel)
1 2407 (??)
1 2472 (13 – Non US)
40 2457 (10)
41 2442 (7)
46 2432 (5)
52 2417 (2)
69 2447 (8)
141 2427 (4)
158 2452 (9)
229 2422 (3)
718 2462 (11)
731 2412 (1)
1428 2437 (6)

It appears that Channel 6 (aka 2437 Mhz or 2.437Ghz) is the “most popular”. Probably because that is what most routers come with as a default. It also appears that a lot of people don’t change their SSID either. I saw 214 “Linksys”, 106 “NETGEAR” and 22 “belkin54g”, which are all default SSID’s. 542 total were a combination of those 3 (spelling case and maybe a number added to it).

So in the end what does this all really mean? For one vendors need to be more proactive about helping inexperienced customers to properly secure their wireless network devices. In this day and age, routers should be sold “secure by default” and really not let the router connect to the Internet until the default admin password and ssid have been changed, and proper encryption has been set up. Why do I say this? Well there are ton’s of people who just buy a WiFi router, and don’t understand that if they don’t secure it that some one in their neighborhood could use their WiFi network, with or with out permission, and do something “bad” and the next thing you know the cops will be showing up at your door because the connection was traced back to your house, NOT your neighbor’s.

Some tips for SSID’s as well.

  1. Please don’t make the SSID your postal address, especially if you are in an apartment don’t tack on your apartment number.
  2. Don’t leave it as the default from the vendor. If you do this makes it a litter easier to guess that you haven’t done any security on it, and some one can now take control over it, because you more than likely have not changed the default password.
  3. Don’t name it your family name, or any ones name in your family. If you do, you can fall pray to some social engineering hacks
  4. Make it something that is not going to interfere with some one around you if you live in a crowded area.. Nothing like having 6 WiFi’s in a small apartment building all on channel 6 all with the SSID as Linksys and different passwords on all them, you will get horrible performance.