11.14.2008

Power consumption of my Windows Desktop

I ran into a rather interesting discovery regarding power consumption of my PC while in sleep mode.

Using a Kill-A-Watt I measured how much power my computer uses.

While under normal operation, I use around 120-170 Watts. This is reasonable for my hardware - Core 2 Duo 7200, GeForce 6800GT, 22 inch ViewSonic flat panel.

Then I tested the watt usage while the machine was in a "Sleep" state. The result was a surprisingly low 13 watts.

I noticed that I could not wake my computer up using my USB keyboard, only the power button. So in Control Panel -> System -> Hardware -> Device Manager -> Keyboards -> Power Management I checked "Allow this device to bring the computer out of standby". I then re-ran the test with the Kill-A-Watt.

With this option enabled my consumption during sleep mode went up to 66 watts! That's a 500% increase!

I leave my PC on 24x7x365. Looking at my last bill I pay .16 cents for a kilowatt. Having this option turned on will cost me an extra $75/ year. No thanks, I'll just push the power button to wake up from now on.

If anyone else has a way to measure energy consumption - post your results.

10.20.2008

Two Months with my Asus eeePC

Back in August I replaced my aging 15.4 inch Sony laptop with an Asus eeePC 900. This is somewhat of a review of my experience so far; wrestling with various operating systems and my impressions of the hardware.


Specs
The particular eeePC 900 I purchased from Newegg has the following specs:

Celeron M processor clocked @ 900Mhz
4 GB Solid State Drive for OS
16GB Solid State Drive for data
Xandros Linux
1 GB DDR2 RAM
1024x600 8.9-inch screen
webcam/microphone/vga out/sd reader

Operating Systems
First try...Egg
I decided to give the pre-loaded, linux based, Xandros OS a chance. The very first impression I had of it was quite positive. It booted EXTREMELY fast. In fact, the fastest boot of any operating system I have ever seen; 20 seconds. Once I logged in I quickly found my way around the simple tab based interface. It reminded me a little bit of Geo Works (an operating system that was on my first computer; a Laser 386.) I did my best to connect in my work email, extend firefox, customize it a bit and get some use out of it. I quickly became frustrated with the disappointing options for adding software and customizing the existing software. Besides the quick boot times - I really did not find anything good about the operating system that came on it. I didn't expect that I would like it; I simply wanted to give it a chance.

Correction - one more almost cool feature was the VoiceCommand application - though I found myself talking to my PC too much and felt a bit odd.

Second go Around - Caterpillar
After a week or so of Xandros - I decided to load Ubuntu 8.04 onto the eee PC. Ubuntu has been a solid performer for me on the desktop. It's a full featured operating system and comes with everything you need out of the box to be productive- this I will not deny it.
I easily loaded a live CD onto a flash drive and installed from there. Install went smooth and I think almost everything worked out of the box after a few minutes of applying some quick patches.
However, Ubuntu has become a very FAT distribution. Package dependencies are a bit of a nightmare. On my little eee PC this was simply too much. Boot times were disappointing and trying to remove extra packages was a nightmare with Ubuntu's heavy dependencies on tools that make the average Linux user's life easy. Those tools I started to hate more and more. Then I ran into some trouble getting my microphone to work and in a moment of desperation, I decided to try another operating system.

Third experimentation - Pupa
When I gave up on Ubuntu for being too fat I decided to give Windows XP SP3 a chance. For this, unfortunately, I was forced to buy an external CD-ROM drive. I ran into some trouble getting the eee PC to boot into an image of the Windows installer on a thumb drive. No big deal, I needed one anyways.
I decided to go with a slimmed down image of XP SP3 using XP-Lite. The install went smooth. Of course, nothing worked out of the box (networking, acpi, etc). Asus was nice enough to include a CD of the Windows drivers necessary to run on this machine. The driver install process took up almost 1.5 hours of my time. Once I got past that, the computer ran pretty well with XP. It booted quickly, seemed pretty stable, etc. I used it with XP for close to a month. One day I decided to tether my Blackberry Perl with the laptop to receive internet wirelessly. I loaded the huge program Blackberry Manager and proceeded with a sync. Failed. Many many failures and re-installations. The software slowed my computer to a crawl. It was pathetic. Then I was reminded why I don't use Windows - it gets way too slow once you add software. After some more disappointments - and lack of the basic Linux networking tools that I have grown to need, I decided once again to switch.

Fourth Iteration - Butterfly
For the final chapter of my eee PC, which I named Wall-eee after Pixar's latest masterpiece - Wall-E I decided to go with Debian Lenny. Lenny is Debian's upcoming release and is still considered "testing". Installation was not difficult since I already had an external CD drive. Out of the box, wired and wireless networking did not work. Wired networking was easy, wireless a bit more work but simple using module-assistant. I decided to go with xfce4 as my desktop enviornment. Finally, I felt right at home. I was in full control of the packages that were being installed - nothing extra, nothing fancy. Some of the applications I use on Debian are:
* xfce4-places plugin - quick access to folders, documents, and removable media (writen by my brother Diego)
* date-time plugin - a panel plugin that gives you better control of the (you guessed it!) date and time and shows a calendar - again partial to this because my brother maintains it.
* finch - an ncurses based front end to libpurple (pidgin). It's very lightweight and allows me to connect into AIM, Gtalk, MSN and others. It has full support for sending/receiving files - just console based so it's not "pretty".
* Unison - a 2 way file synchronizer that works over SSH using rsync - very useful for work.

Although configuration of Debain can be quite a task - I feel security in it's stableness and maturity. I have faith that when I change something it will stay the way I left it. In Ubuntu - there is little guarantee of that since they attempt to have everything pre-configured and re-configured to suit their taste.
With Debian, my eee PC boots in around 45 seconds. I improved on this by trimming some fat from boot up services, removing extra boot time packages - like some loggers and not using GDM as a start up manager (just log in and run startx). Next I will compile my own kernel with all needed packages compiled in, I will follow up what my boot time is after that.

Hardware
So far I have focused on the software with little mention of the hardware. I am absolutely in love with this piece of hardware. It's exteremely solid. The only moving part that I am aware of is the CPU fan, which seldom runs. The screen passes my hing test (I can pick the laptop up by using the screen and the screen hinge does not move). The camera and microphone get some good use using Skype or a softphone. Plenty of USB ports (they saved my sanity during Hurricane Ike by charging 2 iPods and my phone). The power adapter is very small. The machine weighs close to nothing. I carry it around everywhere. It's small size comes in handy when working on a 66 block or something where I'm referring to documentation (holding Wall-eee) and using a tool with the other hand. Battery life is comparable to my Sony - around 1.5 to 2.5 hours. Not impressive but not bad either. I'm sure I could squeeze more out of it by tweaking with the screen brightness, turning off wifi, throttling the CPU, etc. The keyboard is pretty easy to get use to - not full size by any means but I can type on it with relative ease.

In the end, I would recommend this PC to anyone who needs a super portable PC. If you have to do any extended work on a laptop - this thing is not for you. The screen real estate is lacking. If you are constantly moving around, booting up, changing network configs, running diagnostics, working in a cramped server closet - this thing is your best friend.

7.22.2008

Wireless Antenna Experimentation and Review

I purchased two Gigaware 21-162 wireless antennas from Radio Shack in order to get a longer range wireless connection between two routers. I am going to move into an apartment across the street and from a friend who already pays for internet access and is happy to share it with me. I am going to replace the stock antennas on my 2 Linksys WRT54G routers with the ones from Gigaware in hopes to get a clear signal.

The firmware on the routers I am using are open source router distros that will allow me more control of the transmitters and allow the Linksys WRT54G routers to be put into a bridged mode (which allows for one to connect to the other and bridge two networks into one wirelessly separated logical network ). The master router uses DD-WRT v24 RC6 and the slave one uses Tomato Firmware v1.19.1463

You can relatively easily achieve the router configuration portion of this with these instructions from the DD-WRT Wiki. The Tomato config is just as simple, the GUIs are very intuitive.

The antennas are very easy to install, I unscrewed the factory antennas and screwed the replacements right in. The antennas are twice as long as the factory antennas and give my WRT54Gs a nice ego boost.

The antennas claim to have a 7 dBi gain. I wanted to see what sort of gain I would get after installing them on a router running DD-WRT. I left the advanced wireless settings at their default and got these results:
The results come from running the command: watch "iwlist wlan0 scan" | head on my Debian laptop, which allow me to see a "Quality" measurement and a "Signal Level" measurement. The laptop was about 20 feet from the router and did not move during the tests. Some of the quality measurements would fluctuate by around 4 points, the figures where calculated using an average. (Note that Signal Levels closer to zero are better).

To interpret that data a little bit, installing the antennas gave me a 15% boost if measured by "Signal Levels" and a 12.5% increase if measured in "Quality". In dB the difference was 6 dB, the box claims dBi. (Not sure what the difference is between dB and dBi.

Yes, it would be nice to know how these results affect coverage area...I have not performed any long distance tests yet as that requires my neighbor's to know that I am a complete geek. Don't worry they will come. Additionally, I may add that there are surely some problems with this data - don't quote me on these numbers.

Specifications of the Gigaware 25-162 (from the box):
  • Purchased from: Radio Shack
  • Purchase Price: $7.97
  • Frequency: 2.4 GHz
  • Gain: 7dBi
  • Transmission pattern, 20 degrees vertical
  • VSWR: 2:1 max
  • Impedence: 50 ohms
  • Power handling: 2 watts

I will be moving September 1st and will post the results of the internet sharing attempt.

5.07.2008

Attachments in MoinMoin 1.6

Alternate Attachment Syntax in MoinMoin 1.6

As of MoinMoin wiki version 1.6 (or so) attaching files to a page has changed the action that previous versions performed. When a file is attached with the format {{attachment:foo.pdf}} the file is not available for direct download. Instead, the user is sent to an intermediate page where he/she can manage the attachments, including downloading it. Sometimes I prefer the old behavior, most notably when I want to make it easier for the reader.


The format to use is:


[[attachment:foo.pdf|description|&do=get]]


where foo.pdf is the file you want to upload and description is a short name for the file.


Thanks to Tre56k in the MoinMoin IRC channel for this tip.

POP3 Commands

For use when troubleshooting email problems with telnet (or parsing email in your head) .

First you must telnet to the POP3 sever, in Windows or Linux, enter a terminal and type:

telnet [host [port]]

Where host is the POP3 server you want to connect to and port is generally the standard POP3 port 110.

  • Minimal POP3 Commands:
    • USER name valid in the AUTHORIZATION state
    • PASS string
    • QUIT
    • STAT valid in the TRANSACTION state
    • LIST [msg]
    • RETR msg
    • DELE msg
    • NOOP
    • RSET
    • QUIT valid in the UPDATE state
  • Optional POP3 Commands:
    • APOP name digest valid in the AUTHORIZATION state
    • TOP msg n valid in the TRANSACTION state
    • UIDL [msg]
  • POP3 Replies:
    • +OK
    • -ERR
This information gathered via various websites and this document: ftp://ftp.isi.edu/in-notes/rfc1939.txt