What I learned about air travel by globetrotting back and forth to Baltimore and D.C.

In 2011-2012, I flew to Baltimore or Washington D.C. a lot–probably eight times, if not more. Internet pal Rob O’Hara wrote about his recent flight to Seattle this weekend; predictably, they lost his bags.

Here’s what I learned by getting to know the Baltimore area by plane.

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The many troubles with e-books

A brief essay by free software pioneer Richard Stallman on the problems with e-books made the front page of Slashdot today. It’s everything I’ve come to expect from Stallman. I found myself vigorously agreeing with parts of it, and vigorously disagreeing with other parts of it.

But mainly I found myself disappointed that he didn’t really elaborate much. Maybe it’s because he covered similar ground once before in his 1997 dystopian 1984-ish short story, The Right to Read.

And, to me, that’s the problem. We’re on a slippery slope. Today it sounds ridiculous that it could be illegal to loan your laptop or your e-reader or your tablet to someone else. But prior to 2009, the idea that you could buy a book and then at some point the party that sold it to you could take it back from you without permission sounded ridiculous.
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What burn-in is and why you should do it

A friend bought a new computer this month. It arrived sooner than expected, and she called to ask what she should do. I said, among other things, to set it up and leave it powered on continuously for at least 24 hours.

A coworker who had never heard that advice asked why.

The reason is twofold. If a machine–electronic or otherwise–is going to fail, it’s more likely to do so very early in life. So running it for 24 hours will expose any parts that are due for premature failure. If the device survives its first 24 hours, odds are it will run for years afterward. But the second reason is called oxide healing. I can’t find a good link outside of electrical engineering textbook excerpts on Google Books, but basically, if any of the tiny electrical traces in computer chips (made of one exotic metal oxide or another, hence the name) are questionable, sometimes running continuously for a length of time conditions these traces and makes a borderline chip OK.

I do a burn-in on every computer I build. I’ve been doing burn-ins on my new computers for 20 years, and I rarely have hardware problems. I average about one hardware failure every five years, and that’s spread out among multiple computers. I do a burn-in on any other electronic device I buy as well, for the same reason.

Ideally, each chip should get a burn-in at the factory, and the complete device should receive a burn-in after final assembly, but that doesn’t always happen. Doing a burn-in yourself gives yourself some extra insurance, at minimal cost and effort.

It’s certainly not a bad idea to stress test your hardware, and frankly, I’d add a regimen of SpinRite to that list to make sure the hard drive starts its life out on the best foot possible. But if all you have the time and effort to do is power the PC up and walk away for 24 hours, that will give you most of the benefit.

I got an LED bulb, and it is fabulous.

I half-heartedly checked Home Depot’s web site today, and saw they had 429-lumen, 8.6-watt (40W equivalent) LED bulbs at my local store. Finally!

So when I had a chance, I drove over, plunked down my 19 bucks, and brought one home.

It’s not perfect. But I like it an awful lot.I tried the bulb out in a lamp first, to test the light quality. It’s very similar to the last batch of CFLs I bought. Not quite as yellow as my remaining incandescent bulbs, but nice.

It’s not quite bright enough to use in a lamp, and it’s fairly directional. You’ll want at least a 60W equivalent for that, and probably more. Give it time.

In my son’s bedroom, the light worked great. It works nicely in overhead lights, and it’s dimmable. Dimmable CFLs are expensive and hard to find, so I might as well buy LED bulbs instead since they use less power and last 2-3 times as long.

In operation, I found the LED bulb never got uncomfortably hot to the touch.

LED bulbs produce no UV light, so they won’t attract bugs and they won’t cause the pictures on your walls to fade. That sounds like a plus to me.

And, believe it or not, they’re assembled in the USA. Presumably most of the components, if not all of them, are made in China, but LED bulbs are one of the few things you can buy that support manufacturing jobs here in the States.

The bulbs have a five-year warranty. I suggest saving the receipt and perhaps the packaging, and writing the date of purchase on the base of the bulb in pencil. That way if the bulb fails prematurely, you can do something about it.

The 46-year life expectancy claim sounds overly optimistic, but 15-20 years wouldn’t surprise me.

I suggest you “burn in” the bulb by leaving it on for 24 hours straight. Like any other electronic device, if it survives that first 24 hours of running continuously, it’s likely to last years.

If the bulb is going in a bedroom or someplace else where leaving it on for 24 hours is impractical, put it in a lamp and leave the lamp on for 24 hours, then install the bulb where you intend to use it.

At $19 a pop, I’m not going to run out to convert the whole house. But as old bulbs burn out, I’ll buy LEDs to replace them. As time goes on, they’ll only improve, and prices will come down. But these bulbs are good enough to be useful today.

The energy savings isn’t chump change–LED bulbs pay for themselves in a couple of years if they replace old-fashioned incandescent bulbs. Not only do you get more lumens per watt, but the less wattage you consume, the lower your cooling bills will be. I was an early adopter of CFLs–I have them everywhere but my kids’ rooms, and a seldom-used light in the shower of one bathroom. Between that, my thermal curtains, and a programmable thermostat, I haven’t had a $200 electric bill in years.

Energy isn’t going to get any cheaper, and we consume more of it per person than the rest of the world. We can voluntarily cut our energy usage, or we can wait for China and India to show up with guns and force the issue. I’d rather cut it voluntarily.

Incoming link: http://mondayevening.wordpress.com/2009/02/17/led-bulb-glows-after-i-turn-it-off/

Testing a blown AC adapter

All too often, people plug the wrong AC adapter into an electronic device. People just plug in the first adapter that fits, and usually when they do this, if the equipment wasn’t blown before, it is now.
They’re known by many names, most of them not affectionate: power bricks, wall warts… But you miss them when they’re gone.
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