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It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about the upcoming DTV transition.  The DTV coupon program is in full swing and converter boxes are widely available.  I got my two $40 coupons a few weeks ago and bought my first box yesterday.  Based on reviews at AVS Forum and the comparison on Wikipedia I chose to get the Zenith DTT901.  Circuit City showed them in stock in their Harrisburg East store, so I picked it up from there.  I already had a Radio Shack ATV 1000 combo VHF/UHF/FM indoor antenna, so I plugged that in to the DTT901.  I was pleasantly surprised when I performed the first auto-scan and received all the local digital stations clearly except for WPMT-DT (Fox). 

I haven’t yet tried to adjust my antenna and manually tune in Fox, but I’m not all that concerned since I’m setting this up mainly to give us TV access in the event our cable goes out.  However, I like the ability to choose 16:9 or 4:3 for HD/widescreen shows and the 4:3 picture I get from the DTV is noticably cleaner than what we get over cable.  Checking back in on my DTV post of over a year ago, I think Mark Cuban’s comment hits the mark.  At the time I was convinced that the broadcast networks would go native widescreen and not worry about 4:3 protection.  In the meantime, they’ve moved their corner bugs in and graphics are 4:3 safe.  Our local stations (along with most others, I presume) aren’t producing any HD content.  Even WGAL and WHTM switch their HD feed into SD mode to do graphics overlays for station ID or weather alerts.  What remains to be seen is how cable providers will feed analog cable customers.  Will they have a choice of aspect ratios or be force-fed 4:3?

I really like the DTT901.  It’s small, has low operating heat, and its remote is small and simple.  I like being able to quickly zoom/crop the HD channels to optimize viewing.  I’ll probably buy another one with my second coupon.

VMmark is a virtualization throughput benchmark developed by VMware to test its products’ performance on compatible hardware configurations. Its job is to stress the CPU/memory subsystem of a server hosting virtual machines and index its performance at its maximum acceptable workload. Vendors document VMmark tests with VMware products (normally ESX) on a given hardware/software configuration and submit the results to VMware, who publishes them on a web site.

VMmark came out of beta with version 1.0 in July 2007. To date, Dell, HP, IBM, and Sun have submitted results that have been published by VMware. The results cover the AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon server platforms, which all four server vendors now provide to varying degrees. It’s been a useful resource for me, since the competition between AMD and Intel the last few years has resulted in each vendor taking turns leading in virtualization performance in the 2-socket and 4-socket x86 server spaces. Regardless of which vendor submits a VMmark result for a particular processor/memory/chipset combination, the result can usually be inferred to be similar to what would be obtained on another vendor’s implementation of that combination. Based on a recent conversation I had with HP, they expect that customers will make that inference. I had approached them twice about HP’s lack of up-to-date VMmark results for their flagship virtualization platforms, and was told that they hadn’t submitted recent benchmarks due to their reluctance to publish results with non-production VMware ESX builds and/or hardware that wasn’t yet available to customers. Because other vendors were publishing results on current or upcoming platforms sooner, HP apparently didn’t see much return on going though the trouble and cost of performing and documenting VMmarks on their implemenation of similar platforms.

Note that when I described VMmark, I mentioned compatible, not supported, hardware configurations; that’s because VMware has published results from vendors that used pre-release, unsupported software and/or hardware. I think this is the most likely reason Dell was the first to release a quad-core-Opteron-based VMmark. If you look at the disclosure for that submission, you’ll see that it was run on a PowerEdge R905 with 2.5GHz quad-core Opterons (model 8360 SE), a processor model that isn’t available for purchase in that server today. The fastest available R905 today has model 8356 (2.3GHz) processors. Dell’s submitted results for their PowerEdge R900 with Xeon 7350 processors used a beta version of VMware ESX Server v3.5, build 62773, and was tested on November 16, 2007: a few weeks before the production release of ESX 3.5, build 64607, on December 10th. In fact, of the 16 total VMmark results published as of today, the only vendor who submitted results with hardware or software unavailable at the time of publishing is Dell.

To better reflect the version and status of hardware and software used to obtain the published results, I think VMware should:

  • refuse to publish results that use pre-release hardware and/or software
  • clearly state the availability and/or versions of the tested hardware and software in the system descriptions on the results page

That would allow customers like me to better determine the veracity of a published score without having to be a detective. As VMmark evolves and future SPEC-sanctioned virtualization benchmarks come to market, it would be nice to be able to see more, relevant benchmarks from more vendors rather than gamed, dubious benchmarks from a few.

I sent my Gmail account a 53kB AMR sound file (about 1 minute of audio) from my phone and when it showed up in my Gmail inbox the attachment was a ~512kB WAV file (mono, 8-bit).  I checked my phone to make sure it hadn’t auto-converted the file before sending it and it says it didn’t.  This means Gmail could be a handy part of an AMR-to-podcast solution.  Besides its conversion and email gateway roles, it would serve as a handy data archive.

Hat tip to Psychophil for occasionally encouraging the use of CFLs. I replaced a new hanging light fixture in the kitchen last weekend. The old one used a single, large 40-watt globe. The new fixture used three smaller G25 globes. I put in 40w incandescent G25 bulbs I had in stock for our bathroom lighting. The extra brightness was nice, but I figured this would be a great opportunity to try CFLs. I got some 9w G25 soft-white CFLs and put them in today. I was pleased at their instant start-up and lack of visible flicker. The kitchen table was illuminated perfectly. I’ll be looking to put more of these in other multi-bulb, non-fader circuits and fixtures around the house. The next two applications will be the recessed lighting in the kitchen (currently six 60w halogen floods) and the basement (six 75w lights on one circuit).

Scott and I recently started recording weekly “Zubritsky’s Corner” podcasts, both to talk about sports in general and to prepare for the third full season of the BDFL podcast. This week was a watershed moment in our podcasting history. After I suggested that Scott and I could greatly improve the quality of the ‘cast by having each of us record our side of the Skype call with separate mics at CD-quality and then mixing the results together, he quickly purchased a decent recording kit. After setting it up with Audacity and sending me a test WAV, we were all set.

I haven’t sung the praises of REAPER in a while. It’s software I purchased last year that’s been my main audio recording/editing tool ever since. I used it to record my side of last Friday’s conversation; the signal chain was my venerable Radio Shack mic plugging into my Mackie 1202-VLZ mixer, which was monitored by my M-Audio Audiophile 24/96 card. It was very easy to monitor my recording level in real-time with REAPER. Once we were done I saved out the new REAPER project. The next morning I received Scott’s recording and after about 15 minutes in REAPER I’d cut, cued, and panned our conversation. In another 15 minutes I’d pulled in our intro/outro music (Brad‘s “Look and Feel Years Younger”), spliced it in with fades, set all the channel levels and applied the excellent W1 Limiter to the mix. Then it was simple work to render the project as a FLAC and hand it off to Foobar 2000 for tagging and MP3 conversion. The results are here. Compare it to our podcast from the previous week. To my ears it’s a dramatic improvement. What do you think?

Since their announcement about five months ago, I’ve eagerly awaited Dell’s first AMD-Opteron-based servers. The PowerEdge 6950 was released today. I’m quite familiar with HP’s ProLiant DL585 boxes; I think they’ve been the best VMware ESX hosts on the market for the last few years. With the PE6950 release I compared its specs to HP’s latest DL585, the G2. Beyond the badges and management software/interfaces, here are the major differences I see:

  • The PE6850 utilizes Broadcom chipsets; the DL585 G2 uses nVidia plus AMD. Until I saw the Dell specs, I wasn’t even aware Broadcom made system chipsets. Their ServerWorks division does; perhaps it’s the first time system chipsets have been marketed as Broadcom since the acquisition. I know nVidia’s been making AMD system chipsets for some time. Advantage: HP.
  • The DL585 G2 offers one more PCIe x8 slot than the PE6950 and two PCI-X slots that aren’t present in the Dell. Advantage: HP.
  • A sweet config with four 2.6GHz processors, 32GB of RAM (16 x 2GB DIMMs), a RAID controller with four 72GB drives, and a DVD-ROM drive lists for $22,560 from Dell, and $23,624 from HP. Advantage: Dell.
  • This is Dell’s first enterprise product with Opteron processors; HP’s been doing Opteron for a few years now. Advantage: HP.

Old camera: Sony Cyber-shot DSC-P51
New camera: Canon PowerShot A530
Old camcorder: Sony Hi8 CCD-TRV66
New camcorder: Canon MiniDV Elura 100

Philips Senseo

These things use coffee pods, you know…

When we heard Cingular was going to impose what amounts to an “old technology” tax on TDMA and analog customers, Melissa and I decided to find different plans. We both ended up staying with Cingular. I got a work-sponsored GSM phone and Melissa got one of the GoPhones, also GSM. We’ve both noticed that call quality is not superior to the TDMA service we gave up. We’ve heard the same thing from others who have done the same thing. Has anyone else out there experienced the same thing after switching? After hearing all the GSM hype, I’m underwhelmed. It’s nice to have a new, smaller phone, but what’s the point if the network isn’t better at handling voice calls? runs 1% faster per clock cycle on Woodcrest vs. Opteron.