Insourcing time

Here’s a recycled idea: outsource to small towns instead of overseas.

It made sense in the 1930s and it makes sense now.The reason salaries are high in large cities is partly because the monthly rent on an apartment is higher than the mortgage payment on a modest 3-bedroom home in a smaller metropolitan area. I remember being at a financial seminar where the speaker counseled somebody who hated living in Chicago. He didn’t want to move because he’d make less money. They talked about why he needed the salary he was making, and he realized the only reason was so he could continue living in Chicago.

Needless to say, he found a lower-paying job in a city with a lower cost of living, and ended up much happier.

Since high cost of living makes for high salaries, high cost of living is expensive for corporations too.

Manufacturing jobs–back when anything was actually made in the USA–tended to herd in cities. But some companies put their factories in rural areas, where the labor was cheaper, in order to undercut their competitors’ prices.

In the so-called Information Age, nothing keeps companies from locating call centers and other facilities in small towns. It may or may not be cheaper than India–but the cost of doing business in India is increasing–but, let’s face it, there are issues with going overseas.

When I was in college, even the most liberal students I knew complained about foreign teachers’ assistants, who were graduate-level students put in charge of teaching the weedout classes freshmen have to take. Besides the thick accents, cultural differences–ranging from figures of speech to simple expectations–could get in the way of understanding.

Add a VOIP line to the mix and you have a recipe for disaster. Not that shareholders know anything about any of this. (Most of the shareholders who make the biggest racket probably didn’t go to a public university.)

The company I work for (no, I won’t give its name) does it right. Not only are the call centers in the United States, there are several of them. A customer from the South is going to talk to a representative from the South. Accent and all. Customers from the North are going to get the Minnesota call center more often than not. Westerners will speak to a Californian.

That’s important. I’ve been called a Southerner exactly one in my life–by someone from Detroit–but my in-laws definitely consider themselves Southern. When I told them that my Dad was saying 15 years ago that biscuits and gravy causes colon cancer, their response was, “That’s just a Yankee doctor talking. No Southerner would ever say that.”

Suffice it to say they don’t consider me a Southerner.

So I like this idea. Outsourcing closer to home will neatly solve the cost problems of the big city and the cultural problems of offshoring. Some people prefer living in a small (or at least smaller) town anyway.

The article I linked says this could be the renaissance of small town USA. It might be too early to say that, but I don’t see how that could be a bad thing.

Joe\’s Secondhand Lions

Joe Rampolla is at it again. I linked to his toy train website a few months ago; today he sent me a link to a new animation project that he calls “My Secondhand Lions.”

I would have liked the project even if he hadn’t made reference to one of my favorite movies.Basically, his project uses a low-RPM motor, some papier mache, scrap lumber, and some heavy wire to animate some Fisher-Price toy lions. He says this project costs less than $25 to build.

If it had the initials M, T, and H on it, I’m sure it would cost $200.

I like his use of acrylic paint on cheap toys–many cheap toys have gorgeous details that are obscured by the glare of light off bare plastic–and his use of papier mache to make the plateau.

So… How would I add a sound effect to it? There was a radio commercial here in St. Louis that included a line, “Watch out for that plastic mountain lion!” followed by an extremely sarcastic and unenthusiastic “rooo-a-r” uttered by an obviously human actor. I don’t even remember what the commercial was for, but I love that line. These plastic lions with a pushbutton to play an unenthusiastically recorded human roar would be a nice touch.

It’s yet another something for me to build some day.

No, Pat Robertson\’s comments aren\’t \"very Christian.\"

Venzuelan vice president Jose Vicente Rangel is now calling Pat Robertson a terrorist and saying his statement that the United States should assassinate neo-communist, neo-Mohammedan Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is “very Christian.”

I’m not comfortable with the evangelical Christian label, but people frequently make me wear it. Statements like this are a big reason why I don’t like the label.

Most Christians will say they know Christianity when they see it. And this isn’t it.Hugo Chavez isn’t the reason gas costs $2.61. He’s part of the problem, but so is George Walker Bush. And it’s not right to kill someone just because he doesn’t want to lower his price on something you want. By that logic, it would be right to kill every store owner that isn’t Wal-Mart.

The problem is there’s something wrong with every major source of oil in the world right now. There’s instability in Saudi Arabia. The problems with Iraq should be self-explanatory. The rest of the Middle East is torqued off about Iraq. Russia is pumping the oil out as fast as it can. Our offshore operations have been pounded by the weather. Venezuela is mad because, well, Hugo Chavez looks at history and sees that the United States has a bad track record with Latin American countries. It also has a bad track record with oil-producing countries. Then he realized that Venezuela is both. If I were Hugo Chavez, I might be a little bit scared too.

Meanwhile, China is sucking down oil as quickly as it can because we outsourced all of our manufacturing there so we could pay 10 cents less for trinkets at Wal-Mart. It takes energy to make that stuff and ship it over here. The same energy we put into our gas guzzlers.

It’s not Chavez’s fault the entire Middle East hates us. Chavez didn’t cause the hurricanes, and Chavez didn’t sabotage the Russians. Chavez didn’t make us empty our factories and ship everything to China, and Chavez didn’t hold a gun to our heads and make us buy cars that get 9 miles to the gallon, and he doesn’t hold a gun to our heads and make us drive 15 miles per hour over the speed limit every day. We did (and do) those last three things on our own accord, and now we’re paying for it.

Most of these problems are beyond our control. We can’t control the war in Iraq. To a certain degree Bush can, but there’s little reason for him to do so. He wanted this war; he doesn’t have to buy his own gas, and he doesn’t have to worry about re-election. He has what he wants. Nobody can do anything about the weather, and while the war rages, nobody can do anything about the Middle East.

The only factor you and I can control is our fuel consumption. Sales of Toyota Corollas are at record highs, which is a step in the right direction. Not everyone can afford a hybrid, and not everyone who can afford one can get one. The next-best thing to do is to buy Toyota Corollas and Honda Civics.

The Bible very clearly says that killing outside of war is wrong. Pat Robertson needs to read Exodus and Deuteronomy a bit more carefully before he opens his mouth next time.

I’m not sure what the Venezuelan government wants us to do about Pat Robertson. Our laws allow him to say whatever he wants to say. So there isn’t a lot that we can do about him.

Except we can stop listening to him. And, come to think of it, that is an awful lot.

How to improve your laptop\’s speed

Yes, it’s possible to improve the performance of an aging laptop. What’s better is that there are at least three things you can do that won’t cost any money. And while there’s a lot less under the hood of a laptop that you can replace when compared to a desktop, there are two (sometimes three) hardware upgrades you can make that can make a big difference.Disable the modem if you don’t use it. Many, if not most modems have Winmodems inside rather than hardware modems to cut costs and save battery power. But when you’re not using that modem, its device drivers are hogging memory and they could even be stealing precious CPU cycles. Right-click My Computer, hit Properties, click Hardware, then click Device Manager. Expand the part that says Modems, then right-click on your modem and select Disable.

Disable any other hardware you don’t use. If you don’t use your laptop’s serial and parallel ports, disable them in your BIOS. The speed difference may or may not make a difference depending on the age of your laptop, but if you’re trying to squeeze every last bit of speed from it, this can help.

Disabling your sound card if you don’t use it usually makes a noticeable difference, regardless of your laptop’s age. The sound hardware on most laptops is CPU-intensive.

Experiment with your display’s color depth. Usually you don’t want to change the resolution on a laptop, but you can change color depth to a lower setting and see if it helps. Paradoxically, picking the lowest setting doesn’t always yield the highest speed. And sometimes, depending on the video chipset, the fastest setting is the highest one. Still, it’s usually worth spending 30 minutes experimenting.

Max out your memory. With any laptop, you want to be hitting the swap file (virtual memory) as little as possible. Laptop hard drives are slower than their desktop equivalents–5400 RPM drives are pretty much impossible to buy on the desktop anymore, but a 5400 RPM disk is a high-end drive in laptop land–so the performance hit with virtual memory is more painful.

So the easiest upgrade you can make for an aging laptop is to yank out whatever replaceable memory is inside and install the largest modules that will work in their place. Be sure to check compatibility, as many laptops are picky about memory size and/or speed. Buying from a place like Crucial that guarantees compatibility is a good bet.

If the laptop is so old that Crucial doesn’t stock memory for it, or if the memory is just prohibitively expensive due to obsolesence, there’s always the secondhand market (Ebay and the like), but check the seller’s return policy, and always buy brand-name memory such as Crucial or Kingston. Generic memory very frequently causes problems. In 10 years of repairing, installing, and building computers, I’ve seen maybe 10 bad name-brand memory modules, total. When one of my clients or employers has used generic memory, at least 25% of it ended up failing on my watch. Some was dead on arrival, while some worked for a while but quickly developed problems.

I’m all for generics most of the time–I have generic oatmeal and off-brand coffee for breakfast, wash my hair with generic shampoo, I brushed my teeth with generic toothpaste this morning, I’m wearing private-label pants as I write, I put generic mustard on my sandwiches, and when I have a headache I take generic ibuprofen–but generic computer memory is a waste of money.

Upgrade the hard drive. Boot times and the time it takes to launch applications software greatly affects how we perceive a computer’s speed. Each generation of hard drive generally is much faster than the last, so replacing a hard drive in an aging laptop can give a huge boost.

Hard drive speed is more complicated than just buying the drive with the fastest RPM. Even buying the drive with the fastest RPM, lowest seek time, and biggest cache doesn’t necessarily always yield the fastest drive, but it will get you close. Since anything close to the top of the performance curve is likely to saturate the IDE bus at its peak speed in an aging laptop, that’s good enough when you’re buying an upgrade.

One caveat is that a lot of BIOSes on older laptops won’t recognize a monster hard drive. A rough rule of thumb is that anything from 1999-2000 or older will max out at 32 GB, and laptops from 1997 or so will max out at around 8 GB. Do a Google search on your model of laptop and words like “hard drive” and “bios limitation” to see the largest drive your laptop will support. Be sure to search Google Groups in addition to the Web. Sometimes you can get a BIOS upgrade to support larger drives, but often you cannot.

What happens when you install a drive your system can’t handle can be unpredictable. Sometimes a 40-gig drive will just show up as a 32-gig drive. Other times the system won’t boot at all. So it pays to do some research first.

CPU upgrades. These can be dicey on a laptop–sometimes the CPU is soldered to the board, and sometimes it’s not very accessible. Even when you can get to the CPU, mobile CPUs cost more than their desktop equivalents and are harder to find. Still, sometimes it’s possible to replace a CPU in a laptop. If you have an adventurous spirit and lots of hardware know-how, it might be worth searching Google with the model of your laptop and the words “CPU upgrade.” Again, search Google Groups in addition to the Web.

How to make your laptop more reliable (or at least die trying)

People have been asking me a lot of notebook/laptop questions lately, so I figure it’s probably a good time for me to write about them. I’ll tackle reliability first, then I’ll tackle upgrades.

About five years ago, I wrote and published a newspaper column titled, “10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Buy a Laptop.” I still think the best way to get a reliable computer is to skip the laptop and get a desktop, but since people are going to buy laptops anyway, here’s what I’ve learned about keeping them reliable.Buy the extended warranty. My normal response when people ask me if I want these is to say, “I fix these things for a living. I am an extended warranty.”But most laptops have no technician-serviceable parts inside and few technician-replaceable parts inside, let alone user-serviceable stuff. Aside from swapping a hard drive, RAM, or optical drive, a laptop might as well be a car with the hood welded shut.

Plus, a common malady of laptops is a busted screen. The manufacturer’s warranty won’t honor that. I wouldn’t cover it if I were offering extended warranties either, but most extended warranties do. If the warranty costs $150 or less and covers a busted screen, get it. At $300 it’s a tougher sell, seeing as entry-level laptops cost about $600, but I’d even think about them at that price.

Brand matters less than it used to. I used to look at PC Magazine and PC World reliability ratings. Usually people who asked already had their mind made up and bought something other than what I recommended anyway (and then regretted it), but the difference in manufacturers is evaporating. Most laptops are designed by the same engineers and made in the same factories these days regardless of whose name goes on it. And most support is outsourced to India too. I specifically recommended IBM primarily because their support was still U.S.-based, but with the sale of its PC business, that could change at any time now.

So no matter what you buy, you’ll get something of questionable reliability supported by technicians of questionable experience and ability, not that that’s going to matter much because you won’t be able to understand him or her anyway. If the terrible VOIP connection to India will get you if the accent doesn’t.

Buy a really good laptop bag. My laptop has lasted five years. I know at least one person who knows as much or more about computers than I do, but his laptops generally have a shorter life expectancy. The only difference I can see is the laptop bag.

He (along with everyone else I know) uses the typical laptop bags. My bag is an oversized, overweight leather bag. When the bag hits something, it usually leaves a mark. It weighs more than the laptop does, but seems to do an outstanding job of protecting it. I live with the weight. I’d rather have a laptop that works, and besides, I can use the exercise. I’m not exactly buff.

The bag discovery isn’t anything I can take credit for, by the way. The manufacturer messed up the order and included that bag with the laptop as appeasement. So a $150 bag to protect a laptop, whether it costs $600 or $4500, seems to be a good investment. Remember, you can always use the bag for the next laptop, so you only have to buy it once.

On the other extreme, I’ve seen people carry laptops in plastic grocery bags. They deserve all the troubles they get. That’s usually a lot, if you’re wondering.

Don’t put your laptop in overhead storage bins on airplanes. This should go without saying. But I’ve seen people with PhDs do it, so maybe that’s a truth that’s only obvious to computer techs. When the other stuff in the compartment shifts, the bag will get crushed, and that’ll be the end of your laptop screen. When the screen breaks, it’s usually cheaper to buy a new laptop.

Take the laptop as carry-on luggage, and stow it underneath your seat. There’s no other safe place for a laptop on an airplane.

Be aware of the hidden costs. Assuming your laptop makes it beyond its warranty period, there are two things that are as certain as death and taxes: The battery is going to die and need to be replaced, and the same goes for the hard drive.

Batteries aren’t cheap. If it’s under $100, count yourself lucky. And don’t be shocked if it’s $200. Don’t bother buying an extra one now to save for later; it’ll be dead by the time you need it. You might like having a spare to keep charged and swap in when the other one dies though.

Fortunately, laptop hard drives have gotten cheap. You can still spend $200 on a laptop hard drive if you want, but Newegg.com has drives starting in the $60 range.

Make backups. Buy yourself a nice, big memory stick and copy over anything you care about (certainly your My Documents folder at the very least) every day. Laptop hard drives die all the time and usually without warning. So be ready for it. Or get yourself an external USB 2.0 hard drive. A copy of Ghost or a similar program for making images of the internal drive is also useful–that way, when the drive dies, you don’t have to spend all weekend reloading everything.

Get a good laptop surge protector. A portable single-outlet surge protector sells for $10-$20. Get one and use it. Those summertime hiccups that cause your lights to flicker aren’t good for your laptop either, and laptops are a lot more expensive than light bulbs.

Most people buy APC units, but Belkin offers a unit that costs a little less and offers a lot more protection. Expect to pay anywhere from $7-$20. It’s money well spent–you’re protecting a delicate machine that costs several times that.

When looking at a surge protector, more joules (the equivalent of one amp traveling through one ohm of resistance for one second) is better. And if you use the modem in the laptop, don’t forget to plug it into the modem outlet in the surge protector, since surges coming through the phone line can damage the laptop and, in my experience at least, are more likely to do harm.

The road to financial independence

Early in The Millionaire Next Door, Danko and Stanley single out the Scottish. When my wife, Emily, read it, she said, “That explains everything about you!”

When I read it, I thought it explained everything about my two grandfathers–one was rich, one was poor, both were Scottish, and both spent their money pretty much the same way.

I’ve been reading a lot of these kinds of books because I’m not going to let what happened to us back in May ever happen again.But I blame Emily. She’s the one who started bringing me these kinds of books.

So what am I doing? I can’t list everything, but I can definitely give enough examples to highlight this Scot’s mindset.

Pick up that quarter. You know that adage that if a lawyer drops a quarter, it costs him more money to bend down and pick it up than to leave it be? Forget that. A lawyer standing in a parking lot isn’t billing time. I always pick up that quarter. I’m not a vulture–if I see someone drop a coin or three, I pick them up and hand them to the person. But if it’s on the ground and there’s no sign of the rightful owner, it goes in my pocket, whether it’s 75 cents or a penny.

Be scrappy. When I was out of work, I walked around picking up aluminum cans. At 45 cents a pound with a 10-pound minimum (a pound is roughly 35 cans), it was a slow way to make money. But if you’re out walking for exercise anyway, pick ’em up. I pick up cans when I spot them in parking lots, and I save the cans the local hoodlums throw in my yard. The last time we took cans in, we got more than $8. That pays for dinner for a night or two, if you cook. I only gather cans when someone’s not paying me to do something else, but during those times, why not?

Pay down your debt. Once Em and I got on our feet financially and it was clear we wouldn’t have to live off our savings anymore, we paid off our cars. We’d been making extra payments anyway. By paying off her 5-year loan in 3 years and mine in 2, we probably saved $3,000 in interest charges. That 3 grand is going to come in handy.

And that’s Biblical: Romans 13:8 says, “Owe no man anything, except love.” Does that mean my home mortgage and my car loans are sin? Yep. At least we’ve got two sins out of our lives.

If you can’t pay it all off, make extra payments. Even tiny extra payments help. Do a Google search for a financial calculator. Plug in your home mortgage. Many will figure the effects of extra payments for you. On my mortgage, just $10 a month pays off my house a full month sooner. A lousy ten bucks a month eliminates a single $1,000 mortgage payment. I can come up with 10 bucks. About 18 months ago I quit buying a doughnut and coffee at work, taking a thermos and a couple of packets of oatmeal every morning so I’d quit spending $1 a day on those things. The total savings per month was almost 20 bucks. Packing my lunch saved another couple of bucks a day. You get the idea.

Initially I was doing it for hobby money, until I realized how much more I would save by eliminating debt first. Once that $1,000 mortgage payment and $300 car payment are no longer over my head, I can buy a lot more $10 train cars. Even if the price doubles by then, which it probably won’t.

Keep an eye out for business opportunities. My brother in law has the right idea. He and his wife bought the laundromat in the town they live in. They have to fix something once a week, but compared to their regular jobs, it’s easy money. Within a few years it will have paid for itself and the money will just be there.

He’s looking to start another business too. Ethanol costs about $1.84 a gallon and the price is steady. That’s 70 cents less than a gallon of gasoline sells for in their town. So a lot of farmers use ethanol. Many would anyway, because they’d rather support corn farmers than middle eastern oil tycoons. So he’s looking to buy an ethanol station.

Emily and I moonlight selling stuff online. She loves shopping at thrift stores and yard sales. I spotted a copy of How to Make a Fortune With Other People’s Junk and bought it (with a coupon, of course). We’re not following it exactly, but it put us on the right track. We’re small time but we’re profitable, and now she’s getting paid to do one of her favorite things.

The goal isn’t the high life. This might be the most important thing. The reason most wealthy people stay wealthy is because their goal isn’t a swanky $500,000 home in a ritzy suburb with two new foreign luxury cars in the driveway all the time.

Don’t get me wrong: I may not drive a Honda Civic all my life. But I could see myself driving a Toyota Camry or a Honda Accord whether my net worth was $160,000 or $16 million. A BMW or Mercedes (or a Lincoln or Cadillac, for that matter) does nothing to improve quality of life.

The goal is something completely different: not to be anyone’s slave.

A year ago, whenever my phone rang after hours, I had to answer it. If I failed to answer the phone more than maybe once a year, I was afraid I’d be fired. So I picked up the phone and did whatever the person on the other end asked, whether it was reasonable or not, whether it made sense or not. Sometimes that meant I had to cancel plans. But it meant extra money, and I thought it proved how indispensible I was.

And it was all over one Thursday afternoon. There were cutbacks at work, and my position was eliminated. So I got in a car that belonged to Honda and drove to a house owned by the bank, where I sat down (at least the couch was owned by me) to figure out how much money was in the bank and how many months that money would last while I looked for another job.

Freedom is being able to say yes when the phone rings because it’s the right thing to do, not because it’s what you have to do in order to support your lifestyle. Freedom is when it doesn’t matter if your job evaporates because you boss’ boss’ boss screwed up and lost a horrific amount of money because the main reason you’re working for him is because it’s more interesting than sitting around at home watching daytime TV.

Most people don’t have a job. Their job has them. And the main reason is because their lifestyle has them.

In a way I’m glad I learned this at age 30. I’m also very glad that Emily understands it, and that when I can’t explain something peculiar about the way I spend or (more often) don’t spend, she trusts me. This doesn’t work very well when only one person is on board.

And as long as both of us can hold down a job for about five years–a reasonable expectation, since both of us have done it before–we’ll get there.

I just got back from vacation on the Gulf Coast

Nine days away from pagers, e-mail, Internet, and even, to a large degree, telephones. It was nice, let me tell you.

Actually Emily and I tried to bring Internet access along, but my closest Southwestern Bell dialup number was long distance.It wasn’t exactly a honeymoon, as it was designed as a family vacation. Yes, I just went on vacation with all of my in-laws and enjoyed it. I knew Emily was something special when I met all of her family for the first time and liked them.

So, here’s a rundown of what I learned about the Alabama Gulf Coast (which pretty much looks like the Florida Gulf Coast, but is less expensive and a bit shorter drive for us).

Lulu’s has to be the most overrated restaurant in the whole state, if not the entire Southeast. I’ll be blunt: If it weren’t owned by Jimmy Buffet’s sister, it would be out of business. Five items on the menu: a couple of burgers (of course) and a few seafood dishes, the quality of which is comparable to Red Lobster. The live music was two dirty old men being crude in front of children. And the staff was incredibly rude.

You can get hamburgers and Red Lobster-quality seafood anywhere. There’s no point in wasting your time with that place.

The next night, Em and I went to Original Oyster House, which was every bit as good as last year. Their stuffed shrimp is amazing. Well, everything there is amazing, but the stuffed shrimp is another level of amazing. One hint: If you need to add salt to anything, use the sea salt in the special container on the table, rather than the plain old table salt in the traditional shaker. It’s healthier and tastes better.

Another hint: Get there early. We got there at a little after 4:30. There were four parking spots left. They seated us pretty quickly, and we were eating by 5. By about 5:15 you can’t get a seat without a long wait at that place. It’s worth the wait–last year we waited two hours for a seat and we weren’t disappointed–but it’s nicer to avoid it.

There are two grocery store chains down there: Bruno’s and Winn-Dixie. Bruno’s is the less expensive of the two.

I bought a big bag of Clementines for 99 cents. Clementines are a sort of mini orange. In Missouri you can’t get them very often, and they cost a lot more than that. If you’re a Yankee like me, they’re an indulgence, but they’re a cheap indulgence down there.

If you get a place with cooking facilities, bring along some recipes and stop off at one of the many roadside seafood markets. It’s nice to get fresh seafood for what you’re probably used to paying for beef.

Lillian’s in Perdido Key, Florida (just across the border) is a good pizza/Italian place. Em and I skipped it this year since there are half a dozen places just as good within a 10-minute drive of home, but if you’re not from St. Louis or Chicago, you’ll enjoy it.

The Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida is always a worthwhile visit. It’s free. If you have any interest at all in space, the Navy, aviation, either of the World Wars, or American History, it’s got something for you. The tour of the facilities where they restore airplanes is great.

We didn’t make it to the USS Alabama, which is in Mobile. That’s on my list.

It’s easy to find country/western and classic rock stations down there. If your tastes lean more towards a AAA format (Adult Album Alternative), 92.1 FM is one of the better commercial AAA stations I’ve heard. They play plenty of unexpected stuff without being totally obscure.

We\’ll have to wait longer for PCI RAMdisks

In case nobody noticed, it’s August. July came and went, and there’s no Gigabyte I-RAM on the market yet.

But there are a few benchmarks out there, and Anandtech has an article that, once you get past the usual rambling and over-the-top introduction, has some useful insights.I was going to say the first problem is the somewhat disappointing speed, but actually, there are two bigger problems:

Availability. Now they’re saying it’ll be out sometime in August. And they’re initially only going to make 1,000 of them.

Price. The original $50 MSRP is out the window; now this thing is going to cost $150.

Can anything else be wrong? Unfortunately, yes. The speed is a bit disappointing. The SATA interface is the bottleneck. The very newest hard drives can come close to saturating the SATA interface for short periods of time, so the RAMdisk doesn’t outperform it by much. If this drive were using an interface with more bandwidth, there wouldn’t be as much problem, but squeezing more bandwidth out of the 33 MHz PCI bus is tough. We’re at the point now where the PCI bus is a much bigger bottleneck than the ISA bus was in 1994. The theoretical limit of the PCI bus is 132 megabytes per second, which isn’t much higher than the sustained throughput of 100 megabytes per second that the I-RAM delivers.

The combination of PCI Express and a faster disk protocol has the potential to resolve this issue, but at the expense of limiting the device’s market even further.

I’m disappointed by the review in a couple of regards, though. First, they compare the I-RAM to the fastest SATA drive available at the time of the review. That’s not necessarily what every would-be purchaser would be using. I believe that an I-RAM used to replace (or in conjunction with) a drive that’s a couple of years old would be a mind-blowing upgrade.

Second, they don’t take fragmentation into account. Enthusiasts are more likely to defragment their hard drives twice a day than everyone else, so fragmentation may not be an issue for them. But my wife, mother, and mother-in-law don’t know what fragmentation is. Well, maybe my wife does because she’s probably overheard me talk about it. The thing about the I-RAM is that it makes seek times irrelevant, so it’s never going to slow down due to fragmentation. Translation: For people who have lives, this thing could be phenomenal.

The review complained constantly about the drive’s capacity. So I’m disappointed that they didn’t test the drive with NTFS compression enabled. While data compression is still taboo, and it increases CPU usage, when you’re out of room it’s your only choice. While its effectiveness is unpredictable, it’s fairly safe to bet compression will get you another gigabyte or two of usable space on a 4-gig model. But just as importantly, under some circumstances, compression can actually increase performance. I want to know if increasing the amount of data you’re flowing over the saturated bus makes up for the increased CPU usage.

Why small business is better than big business

Technophilosopher Paul Graham (whose essay on Bayesian filtering spurred the development of one of the more popular methods for blocking spam) has some thoughts on what companies ought to learn from open source and blogging.

I really liked this quote: [Those who] run Windows on servers ought to be prepared to explain what they know about servers that Google and Yahoo don’t know. I know Google and Yahoo are a whole lot smarter than anyone I’ve worked for who runs on Windows.

But the most poignant bit for me was this: People work a lot harder on things they like.

I believe this is why successful small businesses are successful. Millionaire owners of small businesses often work very long hours–possibly 10 or even 14 hours a day. But many of them probably don’t realize they’re working those long hours because they enjoy it.

I’ve noticed this with my wife when I work with her. She doesn’t keep track of the hours she works because she doesn’t care. And at the end of my workday when I come home, we might spend most of the evening working, but at the end of the evening, we’re no more tired than we would have been if we’d spent the evening sitting on the couch watching TV.

As I watch the rise and fall of companies in the computer industry, I see this same pattern. Why can’t Microsoft sustain the growth of its early years? There are lots of reasons, but in the very early days when Bill Gates and Paul Allen actually spent time writing code alongside their employees, everyone worked excruciatingly long hours, but they did it out of choice. Microsoft is notorious for trying to force those kinds of hours out of its workers today (the book Microserfs details this in general). Could the reason every Microsoft operating system released in the last 15 years has been delayed be because they’re just a labor, rather than a labor of love?

I think that has a lot to do with it.

And I think this is the reason why I’m not a fan of big business and never have been. Don’t get me wrong; I’m no fan of big government or big labor either. Big anything is out of touch and can’t help but focus more on self-preservation than on the things it’s doing and why those things are interesting and important. I can’t necessarily tell you why any given thing is interesting or important but I can tell you without even seeing it that it isn’t because of the amount of money it can make.

I want to believe Palmeiro

It’s all over the news. Rafael Palmeiro, the Baltimore Orioles star who just joined the elite 500 home run/3,000 hit club, tested positive for steroid use and has been suspended.

Palmeiro, of course, was outspoken on the issue when he testified before Congress earlier this year while Mark McGwire was being evasive.I remember when Palmeiro first came up with the Chicago Cubs. I was a Cubs fan back then, and since all Cubs games were televised, it was easy to follow them. I could watch their daytime games after I got home from school.

The Cubs brought him up prematurely, in 1986, because their team was ravaged by injuries. In those days he was an outfielder. He played left field, filling in for injured veterans, batted .247, and left Cubs fans wondering what the future might hold.

He came back in 1987. He only played about half the season. I can’t remember now if that was because the Cubs called him up at midseason, or if he was injured, or something else. But Palmeiro played 84 games that year, hitting 14 home runs in 221 at bats, and some of us thought we had a future power hitter on our hands.

He only hit 8 home runs in 1988, his first full season in the majors. People point back now to that as evidence that he was obviously juicing. Having seen him swat 14 in limited duty the year before, I always figured pitchers had adjusted to him. He hit .307, but he didn’t have much power. We figured the power would come.

Following the season, the Cubs made one of the worst trades of the 1980s, packaging Palmeiro and left-handed pitcher Jamie Moyer (still hurling for the Mariners today) in a deal with the Texas Rangers for notorious flameout closer Mitch Williams, Paul Hilgus (a pitcher whose career never got off the ground), and Curt Wilkerson (a career utility infielder).

The Rangers noted Palmeiro’s lackluster defense in the outfield and moved him to first base–the Cubs had experimented with him there, but really wanted to keep the position open for Mark Grace, who was just a year or so behind Palmeiro–and Palmeiro turned into a productive, sweet-swinging hitter for the Rangers. He hit 14 homers that year. The next year he hit 26, then 22. About the time Jose Canseco says Palmeiro started using steroids, he became good for 35-40 homers a year.

I always figured he had matured as a hitter. That’s what I always wanted to believe, and it’s still what I want to believe.

To me, Palmeiro became the one who got away. Even after I wasn’t a Cubs fan anymore, and even during that phase when I liked the Cubs less than the Mets, I guess Palmeiro’s success just proved to me that I was smarter than the Cubs’ front office. (So was my dog, but that’s beside the point.) I kept rooting for the guy.

I guess it helped that he was likeable. Besides being a steady ballplayer who was willing to do whatever he needed to do–eventually he honed his lackluster defense into something of Gold Glove caliber–he got involved in the community, and he was always willing to sign an autograph.

So when Jose Canseco first claimed Rafael Palmeiro injected steroids, I didn’t believe him. Drugs didn’t make him improve his defense, so in my mind, his home run surge must have been due to more work in the weight room and/or the batting cage. Besides, when you extrapolate 1987 over a full season, you get more than 35 home runs.

Canseco might as well have been claiming to have introduced steroids to Fred Rogers, as far as I was concerned.

But now, the test… Can a drug test lie?

So I don’t know what to think of Palmeiro now.

A lot are saying he won’t go to the Hall of Fame now. There’s no room in the Hall for cheaters, they say. Well, that’s not true. Gaylord Perry got to the Hall of Fame by throwing greaseballs. Don Sutton’s nickname was Black and Decker. Both are in the Hall of Fame. Neither would be if they’d followed the rules. And yes, Perry once got caught.

So we can forget about Palmeiro making it on the first ballot. That’s probably for the best. It took Ryne Sandberg three ballots to get in. Maybe Palmeiro will need five or six. I don’t think this will ultimately keep him out of there.

I’m not sure if that’s right or if it’s wrong.

I guess the steroids thing explains one thing about Palmeiro. At around age 36 or 37, Palmeiro started doing commercials for Viagra. I wondered why someone his age would have any need for the stuff. Well, maybe now we know.

Kids, keep that in mind before you shoot up.