Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Long and the Short of USB Storage

Key Drives, Memory Sticks, Flash Drives, whatever you want to call them, are the new floppy. Quick, simple to use they are by far the superior portable medium.

However, which one should you buy? Here is a short list of things you should look for when purchasing USB Flash Memory drives (in no particular order):

  1. Physical Shape -> Grab the plug of a USB device. That plug is a standard size. Try to buy a drive that has the same width and thickness as that plug. This will ensure that the drive plays nice in tightly packed areas. Larger drives may crowd other plugs or you may have to unplug stuff just to plug in your drive.

  2. Storage Capacity -> If you can afford it, get a minimum of 1 GB. 4 GB is a bit much, if you're moving lots of files or really big ones, get an external hard drive.

  3. Get High Speed USB (also called USB 2.0) -> Make sure the drive supports high speed transfer. Simply saying "compatible" doesn't mean much. USB 1.1 and USB 2.0 work together by design, the only issue is that you only get the high speed transfer rates when a high speed drive is plugged into a high speed socket. The speed difference is like night and day!

  4. Brand and Quality -> Stay away from no-name brand flash memory, especially if what you are storing on them is important. SanDisk and Verbatim are two good companies that I have used, but there are others. Since flash memory can only be written/erased 1 meeellion times (pinky to mouth) higher quality drives will distribute writing over the entire flash "area" so the drive ages equally. Higher quality drives last longer due to higher quality components and manufacturing.

  5. Moving Parts -> If you plan to be using the drive quite a bit, use a solid drive that utilizes a removable cap. New drives feature an extendable USB plug, but after a few hundred extensions/retractions the locking mechanism may wear out.

  6. U3 preinstalled software -> I bought a drive that has U3 installed on it. U3 is a system of installing software right on the drive so that you can run the software right off the drive no matter which computer you are using it on (only software from the U3 site can be installed). It has its own version of the "Start Menu" that launches when you insert the drive. I does this by exploiting the fact that all Windows computers automatically launch software on CDs upon insertion (horribly insecure, I will tackle this issue in a later post). The drive is actually two drives, part of it pretends to be a CD, the rest is the actual storage drive. I would avoid U3 if you can, otherwise the drive manufacturer may provide software to remove the U3 installation (I know SanDisk does).
While we are on the subject of storage, I had to get this little tidbit of information off of my chest. Ever notice that the storage capacity reported by the Operating system is less that what is on the box?

This is because the box is dividing by powers of 10 but should be dividing by powers of 2. Confused? Let me explain.

Computers do math with 1's and 0's, therefore everything is a power of 2. Thus a kilobyte is not 1000 bytes, it is 1024 bytes. Dividing by 1000 gives a bigger number than dividing by 1024 (about 8% when comparing gigabytes).

This brings me to my next issue kilo-, mega-, and giga- are SI (metric) prefixes and should not be used with computer units. The following table shows the proper terms compared with convensional terms:

Quantities of bytes
SI prefixesBinary prefixes




kilobyte (kB)103210kibibyte (KiB)210
megabyte (MB)106220mebibyte (MiB)220
gigabyte (GB)109230gibibyte (GiB)230
terabyte (TB)1012240tebibyte (TiB)240
petabyte (PB)1015250pebibyte (PiB)250
exabyte (EB)1018260exbibyte (EiB)260
zettabyte (ZB)1021270zebibyte (ZiB)270
yottabyte (YB)1024280yobibyte (YiB)280

Here is a table comparing reported vs actual size:

NameBin ÷ DecDec ÷ BinExamplePercentage difference
kilobyte : kibibyte1.0240.976100 kB ≅ 97.6 KiB+2.4% or −2.3%
megabyte : mebibyte1.0490.954100 MB ≅ 95.4 MiB+4.9% or −4.6%
gigabyte : gibibyte1.0740.931100 GB ≅ 93.1 GiB+7.4% or −6.9%
terabyte : tebibyte1.1000.909100 TB ≅ 90.9 TiB+10% or −9.1%
petabyte : pebibyte1.1260.888100 PB ≅ 88.8 PiB+12.6% or −11.2%
exabyte : exbibyte1.1530.867100 EB ≅ 86.7 EiB+15.3% or −13.3%
zettabyte : zebibyte1.1810.847100 ZB ≅ 84.7 ZiB+18.1% or −15.3%
yottabyte : yobibyte1.2090.827100 YB ≅ 82.7 YiB+20.9% or −17.3%

Now I know that is quite a bit to absorb, you may want to ponder it for a few days. Until next time, keep having fun.

"bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong"

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Zune Owners Get NEW Finger In The Eye

If you are not familiar with the Zune, then count yourself lucky. The Zune is Microsoft's new portable music player. From that standpoint, it does do that, however you can get other players that can do that for alot less.

The Zune's claim to fame is that it has WiFi that allows you to "squirt" (honest to God, that is the term they use) a song to another Zune and that person can play it up to 3 times in 3 days.

That is the only thing they used the WiFi for. What a waste of potential.

As if that is not enough, here is the latest "Fuck You" from Microsoft to Zune owners, if you buy songs from the Zune music site that are owned by Sony or Universal, the "squirting" feature is disabled. Yes that sucks, but one would say "Well don't buy those songs" which is good advice IF THEY TOLD YOU AT THE TIME OF PURCHASE!

No, the only way someone finds out that they can't loan a song to someone is after they purchased the song and they try to "squirt" it. On top of that Sony and Universal make up about 40-50% of the music available on the Zune music store website.

It's almost poetic justice for someone stupid enough to fall victim to Microsoft. As P T Barnum once said "There's a sucker born every minute, and two to take him"

For the full article click here.

I now understand why the Zune is the only music player that offers BROWN as a colour option: the Zune is a piece of shit.

Until next time, keep on having fun (and stay away from those Zunes).

"bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong"

Friday, January 5, 2007

Free Canadian Tax Software

Given that the new year is upon us, we should start thinking about Income Tax,

There are tonnes of software out there that will prepare your taxes for you, but they all want money from you. Some have free trials (who wants to do their taxes five times?) others are free for low incomes, for the rest of us cheapos, there is the handy-dandy pen and calculator.

Until now that is.

Here are three FREE (as in beer) pieces of software for preparing your taxes in Canada. I have personally used the first two options myself. They are completely free, uncrippled, freeware options. The third I discovered during my searches, so I have no experience with it.

1) Peel Technologies, MyTAX

Technically, this isn't software, its the Canadian tax forms in Microsoft Excel format. Very easy to use, and perfectly legal and acceptable. I've personally used these forms, and I had no problem with Revenue Canada.

Other Office Suites might be able to open the files, making this solution cross-platform.

Method of submittal for MyTAX is strictly mail only, Netfile is not supported.

2) BHOK IT Consulting, StudioTax

This is actual tax preparation software. You just install it (Windows only), launch it, and create your returns. A simple series of questions covers the basic tax issues. For more complicated returns, just click on the needed form an fill it in.

StudioTax is fully Netfile certified (v. 2006 is currently undergoing the CRA Certification Process) so you can file through the NETFILE homepage. Get your returns faster (no mailing, save trees!), with less chance of error since they don't have to type anything in (woo-hoo!).

StudioTax will still let you print out the tax forms if you still prefer to send paper.

I used this last year, and I'm planning on using it again this year as well.

3) Phanku Software Corp., eTaxCanada

Again, I have not used this software (Windows only), so I can't vouch for it. It seems to be free and it claims to be NETFILE Certified.

If anyone has used this software, please post a comment reviewing it. Others will be glad you did.

Well, that's is for now. Until next time, keep having fun.

"bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong"

Happy New Year!!!

Happy New Year Stream Crossers!

This Christmas I finally decided to buy a new computer. Now normally I would have built one from scratch, but I was feeling especially lazy, so I bought an Apton from MDG.

It wasn't bad, and the 22 inch, high def, widescreen monitor definitely made it all worthwhile.

I did have a dead pixel problem with the first monitor, the second one was snowy, the third one burnt down, fell over, and sank into the swamp (just kidding). No the third one, that stayed up and so far is working really well.

Other than that, I spent the time with family and friends, drank champagne, and attended a really *interesting* Christmas party.

Well until next time, keep having fun.

"bah weep graaagnah wheep ni ni bong"