Monday, November 9, 2009

New Toys

The past week and a half has been a bit more tech filled than usual for me. I upgraded to Windows 7 Ultimate, I got ATI's latest ├╝ber DirectX 11 compliant video card the 5870 and I've become more active with Twitter on account of the slick TweetDeck client.

The combination of the 5870 and Windows 7 Ultimate has resulted in me essentially having a new system. Despite having a motherboard dating back to mid-2006 this is the second time I've wound up putting off a motherboard/CPU upgrade with a new video card (I'm waiting for ubiquitous USB 3.0 and PCI Express 3.0 before I upgrade my motherboard). My previous video card, the 4870 was an excellent performer but state of the art is a state of change. The 5870 is an amazing product and it definitely falls into the techno-sybarite category. With gaming consoles providing an extremely compelling experience in the form very large communities (XBox Live), large displays (HDTVs) and the ability to ensconce oneself on the sofa, it's not surprising many gamers have eschewed high end PCs for consoles.

The 5870 however proved its power when I pulled out my old Crysis disc. Crysis was a PC game that came out in 2007 receiving lots of press for a couple of reasons - amazing visuals and the fact that probably 99% of people did not have the kind of hardware needed to make Crysis a compelling experience. My guess is Crytek, the developer, had more in mind developing an engine that was capable of realizing the visions of game studios for several years into the future (a.k.a. licensing its engine) and the casualty was everyone that didn't have a PC of the future. I'm happy to say that the 5870 is capable of rendering Crysis @ 1920x1200 with Full Scene Anti-Aliasing (FSAA) and Very High settings. I cheated with my 4870 by playing Crysis on an old 21" CRT I had (since given away) and thus I didn't need to enable FSAA. You see, a graphics card expends quite a bit more cycles applying FSAA. Nowadays I use Dell's excellent 24"2408WFP LCD and my initial reaction to seeing Crysis running on it smoothly was a bit of dissonance as Crysis has had a long standing reputation of bringing hardware to its knees.

Moving along, check out the TweetDeck client, either you get Twitter or hopefully you will realize its utility at some point. I must confess I wasn't blazing trails with Twitter but my coworkers (I wrote about the light bulb going off in a prior post) made me realize how effective it was to ferret out information on a topic that while impromptu was also suddenly very important even if only ephemerally. I will close with an article from the NYTimes I just read that echoes my recent post on Twitter:

Thursday, November 5, 2009

OpenDNS - Your Robust Internet "Phone Directory"

On this late night (2AM) Comcast's Seattle DNS servers appear to be offline. For the layperson, DNS (Domain Name System) is the magic that happens when you type and you're automagically routed to a numeric address ( - in my case). Every device in your home or office ultimately talks to far off servers through such numbers and not with the text you're used to typing at your browser.

While writing this I received some IMs leading me to believe I've been offline for a couple of hours. Initially I thought it was perhaps hiccups I've seen in the past where power cycling the cable modem clears things up. That wasn't the case this time. I went into my router's dashboard and released my TCP/IP address and asked for a new one by way of DHCP. With each attempt (since I still wasn't getting anywhere) I promptly received the same IP address which gave me a hunch basic network connectivity was available. I then pinged Comcast's DNS server and promptly got a response

Pinging with 32 bytes of data:
Reply from bytes=32 time=55ms TTL=105
Reply from bytes=32 time=54ms TTL=105
Reply from bytes=32 time=57ms TTL=105
Reply from bytes=32 time=54ms TTL=105

Armed with that knowledge I setup OpenDNS. I had actually been running with OpenDNS under Windows XP for quite a while but I moved to Windows 7 last week and hadn't yet bothered. Well, suffice to say, the only reason I can even post this at this hour is because of OpenDNS. In short, OpenDNS rocks, use it.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Why Twitter Is Much More Useful Than You Think

Even if you could care less about micro-blogging, Twitter is an excellent tool for finding out what is happening in the world as it may immediately pertain to you. It is an observation/technique I picked up from one of the network engineers at work. We were observing what appeared to be a lower transaction rate in England. So a conference call was setup to find out what was going on and yet no one could find anything wrong within the network or backend services servicing England. Then, one of the network engineers searched on Twitter for Broadband England and found many people complaining that they had spotty broadband access by way of one of the equivalents of Comcast over there, i.e. a major ISP. The implications were immediately obvious - we stood a reasonable chance of seeing our transactions affected, i.e. a lower transactions/minute.

So at that point we knew to stop trying to find something wrong within the network as the problem lay externally.

Likewise this evening I was trying to load a game (I recently moved to Windows 7 so I've had to re-download titles) and the Valve Steam client was complaining that the Steam servers were too busy to service my request. This has been the case for a while this evening so I did a Twitter search. And sure enough, I'm not the only one. Click on the image above.

The point being that Twitter can be an excellent tool to feel the pulse of whatever topic you have immediately in mind.