I’m looking to replace a laptop at home, and I know a few other people in the market as well, so I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled.

Some of the specs are really pretty amazing. For under $750 you can get a laptop with a powerful dual-core processor, 6-8 GB of RAM, and a huge hard drive. But the hard drives are always 5400rpm.

And it occurs to me that disk is almost always the bottleneck. If you had 512MB of RAM today or something, that could be your bottleneck, but almost any new computer seems to come with plenty of RAM. (Although more RAM is always better, and I confess to thinking 4GB is inadequate for real work.) CPU is almost never my bottleneck, aside from really rare use cases like resizing thousands of photos or compiling a long series of applications for multiple architectures.

But whenever my computer is “being slow,” it’s waiting on disk, and I bet it’s the same for you. Takes forever to boot? Slow disk! Programs take a long time to launch? Slow disk! (Cucumber tests take forever to run? It’s all disk I/O!)

So what surprises me is that you have to work really hard to find a laptop that has SSDs. It’s fairly easy on new Macs, but I initially dismissed them from inclusion because you’ll easily spend $1500 on a base model. But then I realized that it’s the same with “PC” laptops: try to find a new SSD-equipped laptop for under $1500. This makes some sense on the surface — SSDs are still a premium, high-performance device, so you’ll pay a premium.

But here’s what irks me: you can get a perfectly capable laptop — I’d even dare say “fast” — for about $600 today. 6GB RAM and a good dual-core chip. But it’s got a 5400rpm, 500GB hard drive. You could buy it, crack it open, and drop a 128GB SSD in for under $250. But no one makes a computer like that: a sub-$1000, moderately compact (and by that I mean “less than 8 pounds,” not netbook-style) laptop that happens to include an SSD. This is insane to me, because I think it’s exactly what most people actually need.

Need a New Computer?

This caught my eye while going through the Costco circular. I’m going to buy gum, croissants, and orange juice, but they have this deal for $999.99: an HP desktop with quad-core Phenom (2.93 GHz), 8GB of RAM, a 1.5 TB hard drive, DVD-RW drive, 802.11b/g/n wireless, and a pair of 23″ 1920×1080 LCDs. Gamers, the graphics card is a Radeon HD 6450 (512MB). Windows 7 Home Premium, though I’m sure it would run Fedora swimmingly as well 😉 Sadly, they chose a 5400rpm hard drive, ensuring that disk I/O will forever be your bottleneck.

Main Page Updates

After far too long of a wait, I finally made some tweaks to the main page:

  • There are no longer links to non-existent pages across the top. They link to the bloggers. (In alphabetic order.)
  • Posts from sites that don’t implement a comment_count parameter no longer generate illegal HTML causing random URLs to be spewed across the page
  • Post sanitization is relaxed, allowing images and other objects to be included. Some sanitization still happens when importing from the RSS feed, but posts aren’t as mangled anymore.
  • The page no longer has boilerplate demo text at the bottom
  • The page no longer has “Pandora” (the HTML theme) as the title

Hopefully, later today I can fix the problem with the server swapping out Apache periodically, so that pages don’t sometimes take 20+ seconds to load.

Fire Return Codes

An extremely niche post, but for scanner listeners who wonder what the numeric codes given after the fire department responds somewhere, e.g., “We’ll be returning. Code this a 136,” the answers are varied:

  • Many places seem to have their own codes. Boston uses these codes, while someone kindly scanned the codes used by Waltham here.
  • There’s a national standard, NFIRS (National Fire Incident Reporting System), that people seem to want to standardize on, but change is slow. You can get the complete guide here (; you probably want page 3-21, which is page 41 of the 491 page PDF.

Status Quo

It’s really exciting to see protests going on across the world. Not because of the unrest or the violence — that’s scary — but there’s this awe-inspiring wave of people who are starting to take a stand for freedom, security, and their rights. But — and I know this is a ridiculous leap — it reminds me of a revelation I had one day listening to Pandora: I’m sick of putting up with things that merely OK. There are lots of songs that are OK. If I’m busy, I’ll let them play because they’re not horrible, but if I had the time, I’d skip them. So one day I vowed to aggressively thumbs-down any song that was mediocre, and, very quickly, I started hearing only good songs. I decided to expand this concept from Pandora to the rest of my life.

And now I’d like to expand it a bit further. I feel like the society I’m living in is kind of like my Pandora music stream before my micro-revolution: full of potential, but a blend of good and bad things that averages out to something that’s merely OK. I would like to thumbs-down the following:

  • The continuation of DOMA, or any other laws which discriminate against same-sex couples.
  • Donald Trump running for President.
  • Mike Huckabee running for President. Actually, just Mike Huckabee in general.
  • The entire situation in Wisconsin, including the entirety of everything both sides have done.
  • People who drive slow in the left lane and won’t get over.
  • Twenty-first century McCarthyism
  • Stricter prohibitions on marijuana than on alcohol, despite the latter being much more dangerous. (Sidenote: I feel oddly compelled to disclaim that I’m not a pot user. It just makes absolutely no sense to me to arrest people who are.)
  • The piles of junk mail I get every day and am obliged to dispose of.
  • How messed up the main page of the blogs is.
  • Having to care and feed for the server hosting the blogs and such.
  • No one caring about the deficit until Obama was elected, when suddenly it was a crisis.
  • Politicians who won’t work with each other to compromise. (Which is to say, all of them.)
  • People who have decided that global warming is a myth.
  • Cold weather.
  • The stupid stiff-plastic bubblewrap that everything you buy is encased in, rendering it an enormous headache to open.
  • ISPs that don’t provide IPv6 by now. (Which is to say, pretty much all of them.)
  • That my car is entirely dependent on gasoline to function.
  • People who think God’s message was one of hate or favoritism towards a select group. (This goes a lot of ways.)
  • Hearing about Charlie Sheen on the news.
  • Hearing about Lindsay Lohan on the news.
  • The condition of the economy and my investments.
  • The amount of work I have to exert to do my taxes when the government has already taken my money.
  • Blog posts that are long lists of things people dislike.

The Community

Okay, so I admit to being biased here. I’m an open-source advocate, work for an open-source company developing an open-source application, and my Wikipedia edit history goes back to 2005, ranging from fixing picayune details to reverting massive vandalism to creating new articles. (I actually recall making edits long before that, but I don’t recall what the account was, much less its credentials.)

But let me ask this: Why shouldn’t you trust Wikipedia? The answer anyone would give you is that anyone can edit it.

I don’t understand this logic. Isn’t that exactly why you should trust Wikipedia? On another site, or in a print dictionary, only a select few can make edits. The presumption is that the fewer editors, the better the quality. This seems insanely backwards to me, though. When something isn’t quite perfect on Wikipedia, anyone in the world can fix it. When something is wrong on a traditional site, or in a print encyclopedia, hardly anybody is empowered to fix it.

Digging a little deeper, I think the “Don’t trust Wikipedia” notion has got to stem from a belief that there are more people seeking to do harm than good. But in my experience, the opposite is true. Back when I had a lot more free time than I do now, I’d watch the list of recent changes, investigate suspicious ones, and roll back vandalism. Maybe 5% of changes were malicious, and one of the reasons I lost interest in reverting vandalism was that I was very frequently beaten to the punch. The changes to Wikipedia are overwhelmingly for the better, and the tiny minority vandalizing articles rarely have their changes stick for more than 30 seconds. (And I’ve seen persistent vandals get banned in a matter of minutes. In keeping with the spirit of openness, bans, with rare exception, only last a week.)

I was going to try to think of some ludicrous analogy, like “Not trusting Wikipedia is like being afraid to (something very safe) because you’re afraid of (something extremely rare),” but then I realized that there are tons of things that fit that category — being afraid to swim in the ocean because you’re afraid of being eaten by a shark, not trusting airplanes because sometimes they crash, not visiting Mexico because of the crime, distrusting Muslims because a minuscule minority of people hold perverted violent views…

But if you’re the type that thinks Muslims are swell and realizes that you’re far more likely to be killed in a car accident than in a plane crash, I don’t understand why you’d think Wikipedia was anything other than the most trustworthy site out there.

Back in Business… Again

Sorry, the site is back up again. This time, the VPS I’m hosting the site on seems to have been rebooted while I was away on vacation, and it didn’t boot properly.

In my ongoing efforts to make this place not seem so dead, I’ve added my Tumblr feed to the main page as well. Others with blogs elsewhere should feel free to request that I do the same. (I’d like to integrate Flickr as well, but it’ll be a bit longer until I have it working.)