Posted on February 20, 2014
It’s tax time and inevitably something has happened that means that we will need to spend all of the money we put away, which means no trips to the UK in the immediate to medium term future.
The reason this year is our second car has stopped working, my wife called me at 6:30pm last night telling me her car won’t start, so I pack up the kids and head down to where she works and yes, it turns over but it refuses to start. By the time I arrived my wife had already called our insurance company, Progressive and ordered a tow, but instead of tow truck, they sent out a jump start truck, which wasn’t needed, the battery is fine, plenty of juice to turn over the starter motor.
Long story short, after 2 1/2 and many calls to the Progressive call center and tow company, a tow truck turned up at just after 9pm. The driver informed us that he had only just received the call and had rushed from Augusta which is roughly 22 miles away. Apparently the call for a tow wasn’t even registered in the system until Progressive called the tow company for a third time!
We eventually got home about 9:45pm; thoroughly pissed off with the service we had received, nothing against the tow truck driver, he was really nice and apologetic. But my wife would have been stranded in a less than desirable area of town if I was unable to drive down the highway to join her, which was less than ideal as I had to drag the kids with me as well before we got a chance to eat!
The net result is that we need to buy a new car; the 2000 Chevrolet Cavalier is no longer cost effective to fix, the car is only worth about $1500 now, and my wife needs a reliable car. Which is not the case with the Chevy, it’s broken down four times in the last two years. The $4,350 we have saved will have to go towards a downpayment for a new car, my wife needs reliable transport!
Over the last few days, this website has been bounced around the Internet as I searched for a replacement for Bluehost who have been having issues with uptime recently, three major outages in the last nine months. My contract is almost up and I refuse to accept the slow “shared” server and downtime for another two years. On my hosting journey I tried Dreamhost for $20/12mths and iPage for $12/12mths before eventually finding myself back where I started with 1and1 Internet.
I’ll start with my Dreamhost experience, which certainly wasn’t a dream experience! I got a ‘special’ deal through Lifehacker, $20 for one years hosting plus free domain name; for such a small amount of money I thought it was worth the risk. I added my website domain name to their control panel, changed the nameservers with my registrar but after five hours; no DNS zone had been created. The result of this inaction resulted in my website being down for three hours; so I switched the nameservers back to Bluehost to restore the website. Further to the aforementioned experience, connectivity to the server was poor; it took three attempts to upload my 460MB website via SFTP.
Moving onto iPage; their control panel is much better, it created the requisite DNS records and started working within a few hours with no downtime. Uploading 460MB of files and importing the mySQL database went without a hitch and the website appeared to work; until about 18 hours later when I attempted to log into my WordPress admin system and it threw a 500 Internal Server Error. Nothing had changed, the files were the same, the database was the same, the domain name is the same but for some inexplicable reason it didn’t work the same. I had only paid $12 for 12 months so wasn’t even going to mess with finding a workaround for a problem that didn’t exist on Bluehost!
I wasn’t going to extend my stay with Bluehost for the aforementioned uptime issue and I wasn’t going to go to another sub $10/month host so elected to give 1and1 Internet another try, buying their “Performance” package at $15 per month. I could have gotten it for $10.99 if I committed to 12 months hosting but given my previous bad experiences with 1and1 Internet USA, I didn’t want to take the risk of losing $132; I don’t trust money back guarantees, again from previous experiences with hosts. Depending on my experiences this time around, I might move my work server to 1and1.
Long story short, I messed with overclocking my AMD Radeon HD6770 and it locked up my PC every time I booted. Microsoft in their infinite wisdom decided to remove the F8 safe-mode functionality in Windows 8 so the only way to access safe mode is to interrupt [power off] the boot process, which brings up the auto-repair system. Why Microsoft removed the F8 functionality is beyond me!
I went through many more steps than I am going to describe here; you don’t need to be bored with the full tedious process. What you need to do is power off during boot up; power back on and select “advanced repair options” >>> “troubleshoot”, >>> “advanced options” >>> “Windows startup settings” and finally “restart”. When your PC restarts; press F4 or F5 to enter safe-mode.
Once booted into safe-mode, navigate to “C:\Users\<-username->\appdata\local\ATI\ACE” and delete the three files in the ACE directory; these files will be recreated when you reboot your computer, the appdata directory is hidden, so you’ll need to check the “Hidden Items” box on the view tab to see it. Reboot and everything is reset to defaults in Catalyst Control Center, so you can try to overclock again or like me, leave well enough alone, I’ll never get those two hours back!
Hopefully this little bit of advice will help you not have to spend two or more hours try to find a fix!
After skimping on headphones for years, not spending over $20 in the last 10 years, I decided to go ahead and treat myself to a decent set of cans. After reading a load of reviews and forums I decided to spend my money on the JVC HA-RX900 over the ear full size headphones and I have to say that I am very impressed. The HA-RX900 have a recommended retail price of $100 but I picked mine up for $52 from Rakuten.com, which is a bargain, the X900′s would be great value at $100 in my view!
First thing to say about these headphones is they are very large; but well weighted and by far the most comfortable headphones I have ever worn. The HA-RX900 have large cushioned earpads which sit over the ear nicely creating a decent seal on my head keeping the sound in. I can wear these cans comfortably for hours without feeling fatigued, I’d definitely give the JVC’s a 9/10 for comfort and design, but it’s not the sort of headphones you’d want to wear outside with your mp3 player.
Now we come to the most important aspect of the JVC HA-RX900, the sound; I tested with my Sound Blaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro external soundcard and Onkyo HTR-380 A/V receiver. The bass response is adequate, enough to rattle my eardrums when the volume is cranked up while still remaining controlled and punchy. The high end is very crisp and detailed, I’m able to pick out little nuances in music that I missed with cheaper headphones. I do have one niggle; the mids seem a little sat back in the mix, especially in metal music where those mids are all important, but it’s such a small niggle I can overlook it. Overall the mix is very pleasing to the ear and never fatiguing, unless of course you push them beyond their limits, then the HA-RX900s start to sound a little harsh.
I also like the 11.5ft cord length; not everyone sits right next to their source; a lot of headphones on the market have 6ft or less, it’s a refreshing change to see a manufacturer take this into account.
I can’t say that the JVC HA-RX900 are the best headphones in this price range as I haven’t tested them all. But I’d have to say that I’d be impressed if there are better sounding “all-round” headphones for $52. The thing is with sound; it’s very subjective; I love the sound of the HA-RX900s but someone else might not like the neutral balance wanting more bass, mids or highs!
A little background; I bought two Dell ST2421L monitors as a package from Tiger Direct to replace two rather poor AOC E2251Swdn monitors which suffered from poor colour reproduction, zero ability to produce black and terrible viewing angles. I do a lot of graphical work, website design so a monitor with faithful colour reproduction is a must! As always this is a user review, not professional!
By today’s standards, the Dell ST2421L monitor is fairly chunky measuring approximately 2 1/2 inches thick, due to being back-lit LED and not edge-lit LED like many of it’s thinner counterparts and lacks any sort of VESA mounting options, but neither of these facts bother me in the slightest.
Connectivity is excellent offering VGA, DVI-D and HDMI so it has all the major bases covered; the only omission is display port; but it’s a $150 monitor so asking for a display port input is a little optimistic. Controls are good and easy to navigate from a point of usability but I’d like to have physical buttons rather than the capacitive style which give zero tactile feedback. The stand/base is reasonably solid with tilt control, but still has some “wobble” if the desk is knocked.
Given that I bought the ST2421L as a set of two, e.g. identical monitors to eliminate colour, temperature and tone differences across the two displays I find myself somewhat disappointed. The second display has a naturally warmer tone, which is fine as a standalone display, it still looks good, but it doesn’t blend well across both displays. Initially I thought that maybe the second monitor was setup differently out the box; but after doing a reset; it still had the colour balance difference.
Viewing angles are fine; but not great by any stretch of the imagination; certainly nowhere near the 160° horizontal claimed in the specification. I can see the colours starting to fade after about 25° – 30°. I know for better viewing angles, an IPS display would work better but I kept on reading about quite severe edge light bleed; which would drive me even crazier than I already am!
The colour balance differences came very close to being a deal breaker; maybe I am a perfectionist but I like displays to be uniform, especially when purchasing two monitors of the same brand/model; but I have decided to keep it as it’s significantly better than the AOC monitors it replaced.
Overall, the Dell ST2421L is a decent monitor with good clarity and colour balance. I would recommend it as a single display but when purchasing more than one, I would have to think twice as there seems to be calibration/manufacturing inconsistencies. As mentioned before, not an issue for me but the lack of VESA mounting options could be a deal breaker for some users.
As a continuation of my “Tax Refund & Gadget Buying Spree” blog, I have bought myself a 60in LED TV; although you wouldn’t believe it; everyone else has monopolized the new toy since setting it up.
But it wasn’t a single simple purchase as the first TV that I bought; a Sharp Aquos (model #: LC-60LE450U) turned out to have a LED fault; a 1″ portion of the bottom left of screen was left unilluminated, so that one went back to the store. The store didn’t have the same model in stock and nothing for the same price so I was offered a Samsung 60in UN60FH6003FXZA with an additional $100 rebate, so I took that offer and thusfar I am very happy with the TV.
Previously I had a 40in RCA LED TV in the living room; which was a little on the small side for a 21ft x 14ft room, but a 60in screen is huge, it doesn’t seem like much on paper but in reality 20 extra inches makes a massive difference. Combined with my 800w 5.1 surround sound system and Playstation 3 it really feels like a movie theater in my living room now, which I obviously like.
My only bugbear is the corners of the screen are slightly dimmer than the center of the screen; but it’s even across all four corners so I assume it’s a design limitation. But it’s something I can live with, it’s the inconsistencies that I can’t live with, for example if it only affected one corner.
It’s that time of the year again and we filed our taxes on January 31, 2014 and received a little over $7200 back, $5000 of that will be put into savings towards a trip to the UK later in the year (if we can save another $5 – $7k by that time). And traditionally this is the time when I spend a little money on myself, (read: buy gadgets), the rest of the year I rarely spend anything on myself.
The first gadget I bought was a new set of headphones to replace my ailing Sony MDR-V150; after a lot of research I ended up buying a set of JVC HA-RX900 full size headphones, which I received on Wednesday and thusfar I am very happy with their comfort and performance. I also bought myself a Corsair F120 SSD to replace my mechanical hard disk, which I discovered after purchase that it was SATA II, my motherboard is SATA III, it will still work fine, but won’t be as fast as a SATA III SSD. The F120 was supposed to arrive today (Friday) but despite paying for 2 day shipping, I wont get it until Monday; could be weather related, we’ve have a lot of snow in the US over the past week.
Yesterday, I ordered two Dell ST2421L 24″ LED monitors to replace the two AOC E2251S-WDN displays which I bought at the same time as building my AMD FX8350/32GB RAM desktop PC 12 months ago. The AOC’s are pretty poor, colours are subdued, it’s incapable of producing black and viewing angles are laughable. The Dell monitors have an average rating of 4.9 out of 5.0 on TigerDirect.com, I hope that I wont be disappointed again. Also while pricing up some additional components, I accidentally bought a second 120GB SSD, a Kingston SH103S3/120G HyperX 120GB, which is a SATA III drive to take advantage of the 6Gbps ports on my motherboard. I might return the previously mentioned F120; or maybe I will put that one in my laptop; we shall see on Monday.
JVC HARX900 High-Grade Full-Size Headphone [Rakuten.com]
I recently did the update to Cyanogenmod 10.2.1 using Cyanogenmod’s own OTA update system, which then offered up a stable (snapshot-M2) version of Cyanogenmod 11; after a day of internal debate I decided to take the plunge and move upto CM 11 (Android 4.4.2); but not before creating a full CWM Recovery backup and also backing up my data using Titanium Backup; better safe than sorry; I’d rather not lose all my data should I have to do a wipe to get CM 11 working correctly.
I did the OTA update to CM 11-20140104-SNAPSHOT-M2-jfltetmo and initially everything seemed OK; except Google+ had disappeared and I had to set up my homescreen again. But the issues got worse when the Play Store failed to load, just showing me a ‘retry’ button, which did nothing, which meant no download of Google+ or any other apps for that matter. Next step was to source GAPPS for Android 4.4 [Download] and flash it using CWM Recovery via the ‘Install ZIP’ menu. Flashing the latest GAPPS fixed the Store issues, but several applications including Titanium Backup, Chrome, Google+ and Drive force closed; but that was an easy fix, uninstall and reinstall the affected apps.
After 24 hours of use; the system seems to be mostly stable, Calling, Texting, Wi-Fi and GPS works absolutely fine, no crashes or resets as yet. But there is a problem which for me is a deal-breaker, Google Voice Search / Google Now is no longer functional, it acts like it cant hear me. Another issue is that when rebooting the SGS4 the system hangs on the Samsung Galaxy S4 splash screen; although holding the power button to power off and back on again solves this issue temporarily.
Cyanogenmod OTA updates are a great idea but because Cyanogenmod are not allowed to bundle GAPPS (Google Apps), the major version updates are not as simple as carrier OTA updates. If you use the CM OTA update system, please be aware you will need to flash GAPPS for your version of CM/Android separately through custom recoveries such as CWM or TWRP, which some of you may not have done before if you used the Cyanogenmod installer from your desktop computer.
Legislators in Kansas have drafted a bill that would block investment in network infrastructure, e.g. gigabit Internet from companies like Google or even local start-ups that provide upgraded infrastructure for video/Internet, usually at a lower price-point. In my opinion I believe this is related to existing companies in Kansas, Cox/AT&T lobbying (read: bribe) local government officials to write these laws because they know that if Google Fiber came to major Kansas cities, it would kill the current ISP’s, $70 for gigabit Google Fiber while Cox charges $100 for 150 megabit.
Not only is this bill draconian in nature; it stifles competition and innovation which in turn screws over consumers, more competition means a better deal for consumers, fact! It also damages the state’s prospects to develop new business interests, I bet businesses would flock to Kansas if it had affordable gigabit infrastructure, given it’s central location and lots of open space to build on.
This bill claims to protect competition by prohibiting competition coming into the local area?!?!
After buying a bunch of cheaper cases which didn’t work out for me because of a lack of width for tower coolers to keep my AMD FX8350 chip cool; I went ahead and bought myself a Coolermaster HAF912 mid tower case for $60 which after seven months I am still very happy with overall.
The HAF912 comes with six 3.5in internal hard disk cages, four of which can be removed for better airflow with a single 2.5in adapter for a solid state drive, three 5.25in drive bays, one 3.5in drive bay; all with black mesh front panels, two USB2 ports, headphone and microphone inputs.
There are plenty of cooling options in this case, as standard the case comes with two Coolermaster A12025-12CB-3BN-F1 120mm case fans, front and rear with mounts for two 120mm or one 200mm at the front and top, 120mm or 140mm on the side panel and 120mm at the rear. I have opted for 2 x 200mm, 1 x 140mm and 1 x 120mm fans which creates great airflow over my Coolermaster Hyper 212 Evo tower cooler; which in turn keeps my AMD FX8350 under 40°C at the core under full load.
Behind the ATX motherboard tray there is plenty of space to hide all your cables with plenty of tie down points for all your cable management without too much difficulty replacing the side panel.
Remembering this is a $60 case; there is an issue; to get access to the dust filter, both side panels need to be removed to pop off the front panel. I don’t understand why Coolermaster elected to not allow the front panel to be popped off without removing the side panels. I don’t expect a slide out dust filter in a $60 case, but cheaper cases have pop off front panels, seems like a silly omission!
Personally I believe this is the best budget mid tower case you can buy at this time, it offers all the features you need and allows for tall CPU tower coolers with a case width of 230mm, which easily fits a 160mm tall heatsink with side panel fan installed. One downside for some is the lack of USB3 connectivity but for me that isn’t an issue as my motherboard has no USB3 front panel connectivity and I don’t have any USB3 devices to use with it; which is probably the case for most people.