It's Just this Little Chromium Switch Here

Weblogging and commentary by Chip Rosenthal


I liked this photo enough to put it on the front page of my new web site.

My wife took this photo this past summer, during our honeymoon—which occurred three months after our first anniversary (don't ask). It was taken outside an apartment complex in the Chinatown area of Vancouver.

The giant abacus somehow felt right for this site.

I actually own an abacus. It sits on the shelf, right next to my old slide rule and my HP-11C scientific calculator (which still works, amazingly enough).

Benchmarking Linux RAID

My project last weekend was to build a Linux storage server for my network. Sunday, I discussed benchmarking SATA controllers under Linux. Yesterday, I discussed some considerations for using Linux software RAID. I explained why a mirrored disk drive array (RAID level 1) might best suit my needs, but I had concerns about the performance.

So, I thought I'd run some benchmarks to determine whether the mirrored configuration would be a good choice. Today, I'll discuss the results.

Here are my test conditions:

Here is the procedure I used to run the tests:

Selecting Linux RAID

My project last weekend was to build a Linux storage server for my network. Sunday, I discussed benchmarking SATA controllers under Linux, and my discovery that a cheap SATA controller actually performed a smidge better than the one built into my system board. The add-on controller gave me enough ports to proceed and build the RAID. Today, I discuss my considerations for building the RAID.

As I mentioned previously, I had a pair of server-grade Seagate ST3500631NS 500GB SATA disk drives to use. My goal was to build the storage server using the Linux software RAID capability.

My performance needs were modest. My home network is primarily wireless. Even if I do go wired, which is my eventual plan, it doesn't take a lot of disk performance to keep an Ethernet connection filled up.

Therefore, my priorities, in order, were: reliability, cost, and performance as a distant last.

As quick review, Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks (RAID) is a technique for arranging multiple hard disk drives for either increased performance, increased reliability, or a combination of both.

Benchmarking Linux SATA Controllers

My project for the weekend was to build a Linux storage server for my network.

I picked up a pair of ST3500631NS (server-grade 500GB SATA) disk drives from Newegg at a very good price ($119 apiece). I want to add them to chinacat, my main workstation, preferably in a redundant mirror.

Unfortunately, when I opened the computer case I discovered my system board only had two SATA ports. I needed one port for my system disk, two more for the new drives. For some reason I had thought my system had four ports, but it didn't. I was coming up short.

So it was time for plan B. I decided to try adding more SATA ports with an add-in controller card.

I picked up an inexpensive SATA controller at Fry's for $40, a SIIG SC-SAT212-S4. This is a PCI card with two internal SATA ports.

I debated between this card and a more expensive alternative. I was concerned that the bottom-of-the-line card would result in lower disk performance and higher CPU overhead. I decided to give this card a shot. I could run some benchmark tests and return it if it proved unsuitable.

Time Warner Rate Increase a Troubling Sign

Cable and broadband video markets are in a period of transition. Until recently, video services were franchised by local municipalities. Some rates, such as basic cable rates, have been regulated, and the municipality had to review and approve increases.

Three years ago, the Texas legislature took franchise authority away from local municipalities, grandfathering existing franchise contracts until the end of their term.

At the same time, many of the incumbent cable video providers have been petitioning the FCC to determine there is "effective competition" in their service areas. That determination would release a locally franchised video provider from rate regulation.

Last March, the FCC returned a determination that there is "effective competition" in the Austin video market. This means that Time Warner Austin, even though it still has to operate under its franchise agreement with the City, was now released of the regulation of its rates.

Time Warner responded by imposing a massive rate increase. The cost of basic cable service was nearly doubled, from $10.50 to $19.95 a month.

$6 Virtue

blue recycling wastebasketThursday is my day to feel a little virtuous. It's recycling day in my neighborhood.

In Austin, you pay your monthly waste services fee based on the size of your trash bin. A 30 gallon bin is $4.75/month. A 60 gallon bin is $7.50/month. We use the smaller bin. Not only does it save us $33/year, but it encourages us to produce less waste.

One of the ways we reduce our garbage is by diverting waste from the trash bin to recycling. We usually get it down enough so that the smaller bin is fine. On the months we go over, we have to buy a $2 sticker for the additional trash bags, but there hasn't been one of those in a long time.

Earlier this year, I bought a blue recycling wastebasket from the office supply store for $6. I can't say that's what keeps us within our 30 gallon limit, but it does help.

Socialized Football

footballTime Warner Austin and The NFL Network are battling like two burly tackles over televised football. Time Warner has pulled the NFL Network from their cable lineup. The NFL and football fans are furious, and the Texas legislature has been dragged into the melee. The NFL wants back on the air, of course, but if they get their way it will be bad news for everybody—including football fans.

The American cable market is structured as a basic subscription service, and the subscriber adds the premium content they want with extra-cost packages. The NFL Network is premium content, but the NFL wants to push it into the basic service package. That way they can collect fees for every single cable subscriber in the system—not just those who want an extra football channel.

Announcing the Holidailies Charity Project

Holidailies 2007 badgeIt's Holidailies time, and as I mentioned in a previous blog posting we're reorienting a bit this year. One goal is to recapture the idea that Holidailies is a gift ("the gift of our prose") from the Holidailies participants to the people who visit and support our personal web sites.

In years past we solicited people to be Holidailies sponsors and buy banner advertisements. Our goal was to raise enough money to cover server costs for the Holidailies period. Each year the community would come through and we'd meet that goal.

We aren't doing that this year. Jette and I are fortunate to have jobs that are stable, pay us well, and won't give us black lung disease. It hasn't been that way every year, but it is this year, and we're grateful. We're in the enviable position of being able to support it all ourselves.

Stop Amnesty for Illegal Wiretaps

desk telephoneThe important message below is from the ACLU. Please consider clicking through and signing their petition.

Congress is considering a plan to offer pre-emptive immunity to phone companies that may have conducted illegal wiretaps. That's outrageous and should be stopped.

The Senate will soon vote on a bill that will fix the illegal electronic eavesdropping on Americans. Yet, we don't know if they will take up a bill written closely with the Bush administration that is dangerous to the rule of and gives immunity to telecom companies that illegally handed over the phone and email records of thousands of Americans or if they will vote on a much more reasonable bill that upholds the rule of law and does not let lawbreakers off the hook.

That's a choice that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has to make. We need to tell him to make the right choice.

Senator Reid needs to hear from every American who wants him to stand up for our privacy and not let phone companies off the hook. You can take action by signing a petition to Senator Reid now:

The Phone I Want (Doesn't Exist (Yet))

Samsung SPH-i500 phoneMy cell phone is an old Samsung SPH-i500 smart phone. I like it a lot in spite of its deficiencies—which are startlingly significant. I've been watching for a replacement, but so far I haven't found it.

Here is why my current phone is so awesome:

  • It has smartphone functionality and Internet capability.
  • It runs PalmOS, which is an open platform for developers and has a rich software ecosystem.
  • I can sync the contacts and calendar to my Linux desktop.
  • My phone looks and feels and works like a phone, not a brick.
  • It uses the Palm Graffiti system so I do data entry with a stylus, not one of those micro keyboards.

Here is what's so awful about it:

  • The SMS is crippled. It receives text messages but doesn't tell you who the messages are from. It can't send SMS at all (without purchasing add-on software).
  • It's a WAP web browser, not full HTML.
  • PalmOS is a dead product.
  • No Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
  • My phone is five year old technology. All the cool kids laugh at me when they see it.