Chains (, Block-) and Bands

In December 2017 the value of the blockchain-based bitcoin cryptocurrency peaked, and for a short while everyone seemed to want to do something-something blockchain. It all reminded me of the business plan presented by the South Park gnomes:

  1. Steal underpants
  2. ??
  3. Profit

with Cartman’s underpants replaced by the addition of blockchain to whatever the company’s  product was. For example HTC’s ‘Exodus’ blockchain phone.

Since then the blockchain technology seems to have passed the Peak of Inflated Expectations and are now sliding down in the Through of Disillusionment, the value of bitcoin sliding with it, now at 1/3 of the peak value. This is not to say that all business plans involving blockchain are bad, I am just suggesting that not all of them may survive the trip up to the Plateau of Productivity.

I have become an insider also, working myself on a blockchain related project, where the blockchain itself is just a small part of the solution (but of curse a selling point), but the internal logistics of the solution what makes it interesting.  Time will tell whether blockchain will eventually be the silver bullet that proponents claim, or if it is really just a solution in search of a problem.

MI Band Update

Since January I have been in an on/off relationship with my MI (2) fitness band. Getting a good understanding of my daily moves has been interesting and it has been a good way to remind myself to have a healthy day. However, the MI Band just isn’t that charming an accessory and it doesn’t work as a wrist watch either -in particular not on a sunlit day. An analog watch-face is hard to beat.

Having realized that, I briefly tried a combination of devices, using Google Fit as the consolidator: Wear the MI bank at home/off work in situations where I would neither wear my wristwatch or my phone, then use my phone(s) as step counter when moving around especially at work. That  setup didn’t even last for a day – after walking 10,000+ steps during the day, I came home, connected the MI Band and whOOP! The step count was back at 500-some. Not good and since then the band has been off. I can live without each and every step I take being registered.

Featured image

A witch-hazel in fall colors.

 

Me and my (MI) band

This is a special day in my relationship with my MI Band. For 41 days in a row I have able to meet my daily goal of walking minimum 8000 steps. That apparently is better than 67 percent of the users who are sharing their results. Not too bad, I think.

Weekends are difficult though. I don’t get the automatic 4000 steps from the daily walks between home, train station and my workplace, and with freezing temperature (RealFeel – 13°) I don’t see myself walk another 4-5000 steps today. And so my steak is coming to an end. I will also  go on vacation soon, and I don’t want that to become an exercise in, well, exercising.

Having said that, I look forward to starting over again, because this walking thing is good. Not just the exercise itself, but the evening walks that are sometimes required to reach the 8000 or even the Google-Fit stretch goal of 10,000 steps are a great way to clear the head after a long day and relax.

Looking back at my previous post, what have I learnt?

  • First of all, I actually do get a fair amount of exercise everyday that I go to work
  • knowing the distance of certain standard walk is great too, such as he distance to the train station, the super market and the kindergarten
  • You get used to wearing a wristband on your right hand all day, every day, However, the fact that it doesn’t show the time immediately when you look at it makes it a showstopper for my as daily driver watch. the heart rate sensor still doesn’t work well. Therefore, However, the MI Band 2 still still won’t replace my old wrist watch. I am however, warming to the idea of getting a proper smart watch.

Finally, where I previously picked the work-from-home option often to avoid a lengthy commute (most of my stakeholders and daily co-workers are at other locations in any case, so where I work from doesn’t make a big difference), I am now more likely to make the trip.

Updates

  • For a while I have been toying with the idea of getting a tablet (I am generally not an early adapter : ), but being an Android person that is always a disappointing market to shop in. The high-end stuff is still 2 years old running, and there really is no middle tier, which would be the interesting point for someone who is mostly looking for an e-book reader. As a test I wrote part of this post on my daughter’s  Lenovo Tablet 10″, and while that does work, I see that I can write just as well on my OP3 phone with it’s  5.5″ screen. And the sorry state of Android tablets need no further explanation to me: As the phones get bigger, they become less relevant. With 6″ phones becoming increasingly prevalent (and handle-able, thanks to shrinking bezels), that tendency can only continue.
  • Speaking of tables being replaced by phones: The year’s big electronics shows like CES and MWC have come and gone, with none of the excitement I remember from 3-5  years ago. And the Samsung Galaxy S9 has come out and is unexpectedly getting favorable reviews with a it of a so-what tone, with the improvements being as expected. Personally I am most interested in hearing about the next generation of Nokia phones that is, HMD phones), since they promise high-end builds combined with vanilly Android One.
  • Also speaking of bigger pones impact:  I scrapped an laptop this weekend (A 2009ish Dell latidue E4200), which, while still working, was not providing any value compared to my phone or the other house laptop (a 2014 model). I kind of hoped to be able to reuse the SSD in my desktop PC to test Windows 10 1803 (since my experience with the 1709 was bumpy), but since the connectors were non-standard, that was not to be)
  • I am reading Robert Heinlein’s “The Moon is Harsh Mistress“. Heinlein is one of those authors I have long wanted to read more of, ever since ‘Starship Troopers’ which has long been a favorite of mine. Great book so far and I look forward to be fully qualified to say that “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch” (while the term may not have originated with Heinlein, his use s the one that counts for me). It is amazing how one can read a science fiction book from 1966, i.e., written three years before the first moon landing, doesn’t feel old-fashioned in any way, whereas many never stories, especially if technology driving the story, can wear out surprisingly fast.
  • I am really looking forward to finally watch The Last Jedi. I have been well able to dodge spoilers, but it is now so long after the movie premier that it’s story seems to be considered general knowledge, not requiring a spoiler alert. Almost there – almost there…

PC Update 2018 – for Lightroom and occasional gaming

For years I have been the satisfied owner of a well-running PC that is based on a vintage 2011 Intel i5-2500K CPU. While there are situations where a higher performance could be desirable (photo editing, that is), the main reason for updating at this time would be Windows 10 compatibility issues. Of course, the performance dip following the meltdown patches also motivates looking for a newer, less impacted CPU.

Down Memory Lane

As an IT enthusiast of a certain age it is strange to think back at the pace in which things developed through the 1990ies.

My first computer was a Commodore 64 bought in 1986 (financed  by delivering Sunday newspapers), followed by an Amiga 500 in 1990 (supermarket, sorting empty bottles and pushing trolleys). I moved to the checkout line a few years later and could buy my first PC in 1993 (i386). Things moved fast from there, with major upgrades at a regular pace: i486 in 1995, Pentium in 1996 and an AMD K6 in 1997. The K6 was good enough for a quite a while. I remember playing StarCraft, XCOM Terror from the Deep and Baldur’s Gate II on it in 2000-2002. I also remember using it with a dial-up modem, but don’t think I ever used it with LAN, which I only got in 2002, the same year that I replaced the incrementally upgraded box from 1993 with a new Athlon XP-based system. That one I kept until 2009, but from 2007 it was de facto replaced by various laptops I had. Next was another full replacement to a Core2 Duo based system, which, however, seemed to have a motherboard issue (could be a compatibility issue with Windows XP – the system has been running Win 7 and Win 10 for several years after I passed it to my farther in law and there have been no complaints) – so I replaced Motherboard and CPU with the i5-2500K system in 2011 and have been evolving that one ever since, with various upgrades along the way.

Seven years later it holds the record (the Athlon was bought in fall 2002 and replaced just after new years 2009, so I only had it a little more than 6 years), and it still works nicely, as is the case with many systems of similar age and part of the reason the PC market dipped, and as mentioned in recent posts, my gaming is far away from the bleeding edge – case in point, I am making another attempt at Pillars of Eternity and will hopefully be able to complete it before Deadfire the Sequel is launched in April.

However, we are seeing compatibility issues now, with some trouble with network card and  the Windows 10 1709 Fall Creators upgrade gave us serious problems. On top of that, our work with photo-editing has repeatedly inspired us to upgrade to something faster. But then, checking how little CPU performance has actually increased since the 2500K came out, we have never gone through with it. Then Spectre/Meltdown happened, and while the industry is still working on patching the issues, it is likely both degrade performance of current systems, and require a CPU generation or two to fix, so on one side we are extra motivated to upgrade, on the other hand would rather wait a year or two.

Situation the Present

Last year 2017 things started getting interesting, with AMD CPUs rising from their grave with the aptly named Ryzen CPUs. As sch 2017 was a great year not to replace a PC, with the first generation Ryzens having a few issues to sort out (which they appear to have been) and then Intel getting time to respond with price/performance. Waiting a year for 2nd generation Ryzen and an Intel generation incorporating a response on Ryzen (if nothing else, then on price), makes sense. Of course, with the Spectre/Meltdown issues, it may make sense to wait another year, until CPUs incorporate better fixes for the vulnerabilities.

My requirements

As described, the issue isn’t burning red and hot, but knowing that a driver update could break the system, it is time to design the replacement system, so here comes, my PC Upgrade 2018.

Some initial thoughts: Focus on replacing CPU and Motherboard. The video card is good enough for the kind of games I play at the moment and Lightroom isn’t utilizing it. Also, since GPUs are now used more for cryptocurrency mining instead of rendering virtual worlds, now isn’t a good time time for that upgrade.

Some use full loínks related to optimizing a PC for Lightroom:

Adobe: Optimize Performance

The Lightroom Queen: Lightroom Performance – What Computer Hardware Do I Need?

PC Design 2018

What is the best CPU?

Thanks to AMD getting back in the game there are now several options to choose from in the mid-to-high end CPU market:

  • AMD: Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7
  • Intel: i5 and i7

where Ryzen has 4 or 6 cores and twice as many threads, Ryzen 7 has 8 cores/16 threads (link); whereas in the latest generation (8th) the i5 has 6 cores/6 threads and i7 has 6 cores/12 threads (->here for an explanation if Intel’s i3/5/7 designation)

With Lightroom being the primary choicedriver choosing the best chips is really just a Google search away, which may find ->this. Still, doing some research feels right and makes the final buy decision more informed, so here comes a comparison between candidate CPUs, with benchmarks from the PassMark Software:

Since single thread performance is most important for Lightroom, the best option is indeed the i7-8700K (although both the 8700 and 2016’s 7700K comes close. However, the i5-8600 is close behind on the single thread performance, and since I don’t really need hyper threading for anything, I may save the money and stick to i5.

Motherboard

The motherboard must have the right CPU socket, which for the latest Intel generation means LGA1151 which must support the 8th Coffee Lake generation. USB support is wort considering (but will require a new case)

RAM

THese days, RAM must be DDR4 with 288 Pins, speed 2400 MHz (or whatever fits the MoBo). 16 GB seems like the right amount, especially for my occasional adventures into virtualisation. I haven’t seen any good arguements for going beyond 16 GB RAM for a consumer desktop.

GPU

I am not in urgent need to replace my current ATI Radeon HD 7850, but checking the net , it looks like Nvidia GeForce GT 1050 or 1060 is the right thing at the moment.

Harddisks etc

I will keep a setup like today, with an SDD system disk, data disk and one for backups. Adding a second second SDD for Lightroom catalogues could make sense, but that can wait as long as CPU is the limiting factor.

This week (month):

  • Watching the Falcon Heavy launch on Feb 6 was amazing in so many ways, with the tandem landing of the two boosters being a great finale. It was also great to watch something live again. In a time where most TV I watch is from streaming services, it was fun to wait for a program to be one and then watch events live as they happened (but I do remember that’s how TV used to eb not so long time ago). Thanks to SpaceX for making their launches into a good show too (I realize this is part of running SpaceX on commercial terms and I am OK with that).
  • Having listened through most of what Enigma has to offer I have moved on to a tour of Mike Oldfield’s catalogue (liek a do every couple of years), starting with The Songs of Distant Earth from 1994 which was a natural place to go after the early Enigma. I continued to the first opus, and may take it chronologically from there – perhaps even realizing my idea of doing a series of reviews. We shall see.
  • Am also trying to do something about my gaming: Another attempt at Pillars of Eternity.
  • Got a Wacom Intuos Art pad for my birthday – interesting bit of gear, that I wanted to try ever since seeing too much fan art at deviantart.com. Not that I believe I have any particular talent – just thought it could be fun to try and learn a bit about digital art. Not surprisingly it turns out to be difficult, starting with the hand-eye-screen coordination being a whole new motor-skill that I need to train. Great to get an opportunity to try something like that.

 

A fitting band?

Last year (2017) my employer launched a new employee benefit initiative, focusing on employee health. There has been inspirational talks, fitness trainers visiting and micro training stations have been set up too. Very nice, and while there was potential for tinfoilhattery, it is hard to deny that being healthy is a good thing in itself – I don’t mind that the company benefits from healthy employees being productive employees too 1. They also offered a fitness band to everybody, gave rise to a bit more tinfoilhattery, which was speculative and unfair, but at least should raise awareness that wearable devices allows collection of a new degree of private information – caveat emptor). The bands were all MI Band 2 from Xiaomi, and soon lots of colleagues were wearing them around the office. I put mine in my cabinet-of-stuff and mostly forgot about it.

I haven’t thought much about wearable tech in general. I briefly considered getting a smartwatch back when the first android watches came out in 2014, but found them to be more gadgets for early adapters and just an additional device to keep track of instead of a real benefit. 3 years later the concept has matured and battery life times improved. Also, I meet collegaues and friends who are happy with their wearables and news coverage confirmed that it is time to reconsider. Then what could be easier than picking that box out of the cabinet-o-stuff for a first run?

Getting started with the MI Band 2 was simple enough, because even though I could not read the all Chinese instructions, I can recognize a QR code and scan it with my smart phone. From there it was all a matter of following instructions on screen. It turned out I already had a Xiaomi account from the time I toyed with MIUI, so I didn’t have to create that either (but had to recover the long lost password, a process that worked just like that sort of thing usually does).

If anything my expectations weren’t high, although the device is actually getting good reviews like this one from techradar.com. My own impression so far is mixed.

Starting with the good: I like the step counter is great. Knowing that on a regular work day I easily walk 7 kilometers is great and having set a simple daily minimum target has several times sent me out on a late evening walk.

On the bad side: the pulse measurement seems useless, for example, during a hard workout it still measured a pulse below my rest pulse, so I cannot us the MI Band 2 for that purpose. Then again, given the cost of the device, what is reasonable to expect?

Likewise, since the basic function (counting steps) is well fulfilled on a cheap device, I don’t want to call anything “the ugly“, but I actually do have problems making the device work as a wrist watch. It can tell the time, but only if tap the device with a finger on my other hand, which means that I cannot check the time with a quick, discrete look (there is a setting to turn on the display when the surface is held up, but it doesn’t work reliably). Alse, the shape of the band is such that it gets stuck in shirt and jacket cuffs, making it generally impractical.

So I like the step counter, but the MI Band 2 cannot replace my old wristwath. I like the step counter enough to keep the band on my right wrist for now, but have also started looking for a replacement.

The Week

I am back at work after the holidays and making ends meet.

  • I am waiting for the Spectre and Meltdown patches to hit my PC. We shall see how bad the day-to-day usage performance hit to my i5-2500K rig will be, but since the primary CPU heave work I do is image processing I am not overly concerned. Time will tell.
  • This week’s music for commuting, working and (new 🙂 evening walks were supplied by the Enigma project. Some albums are great to re-visit, even if age is showing, and some I missed before and are great to dive into.
  • Am still watching plenty of My Little Pony, but I sense the saturation point approaching.

Looking back, looking forward

It is the time of the year for retrospective posts about the past year. What went well, what went worse; what was best, what was worse.

As far as this blogs goes, it is  interesting to read my “happy new year” post again. Things turned out quite different and all in all it has been zigzagging a bit, trying to find itself with regards to form and content (language included), while I have also spent time building two other web sites – havenefterfyraften.dk about my own gardening interests and garnspejderen.dk as part of a sidehustle my wife has started. I have also spent time developing sidehustle ideas of my own, but so far nothing worth mentioning. On top of the has come some family matters that required attention as well as the job,  so all in all, this blog just didn’t get first priority this year. I am sure it is looking forward to 2018.

Some interesting things I haven’t written about, but may cover in the new year:

  • I have started a stream on instagram – it is great to have somewhere to show my pictures, to have someone to share with and someone to get inspired by.
  • With the  photo work came more serious work with photo-editing software, primarily Adobe’s Lightroom. It has been exciting to go in-depth with that application and slowly get to know the rest of Adobe’s suit of creative applications. So far I am just scratching the surface and learning how do to Adobe, which takes a bit of effort for someone who has spent most of his time in Microsoft-land.
  • Some less serious work has gone into Raspberry Pis, which are both excellent media centers when running Kodi on LibreElec and, I believe, a good enough platform to cover the essential needs of a PC user.
  • I just unpacked a fitness band I got a few months back. I am still not sure what to think of it, but now I break it in before the new year starts, and then time will tell if it lasts for a week, a month, a year or just becomes a permanent thing, replacing my 15 year old titanium Certina watch.

Also my gaming stats have improved over last year, with at least 45 hours spent on Steam – I have actually played and completed South Park – The Stick of Truth which was indeed an excellent implementation of an interactive South Park universe and both inspiring and provoking, as well as trying really hard to offend everybody somehow. I also played Pillars of Eternity a bit, but got distracted somehow.

Something new was a return to reading books – that must be an indicator that my kids have grown. I have enjoyed Jack Cambell (John Hemry) and John Scalzi a lot. (that was probably one thing that distracted my gaming – not a bad thing if you ask me).

Also, I may have become a Brony. It all started with me, as a sensible parent watching TV with my little girls, and all of a sudden I want to choose which My Little Pony episode to watch next and watching new  episodes in the evenings. Excellent show.

The featured image

The featured image on this article is a sunset shot on Dec 22 using my mobile phone camera. I am usually underwhelmed by that camera (indeed a week point of the OnePlus 3), but from time to time I try to give it a chance at this time it was worth it. The editing was done in Lightroom CC.

Sunset – Dec 22, 2017

The week

Apart from all the holiday stuff I have:

  • Worked on getting my blogs back in shape.
  • Watched pony, including some episodes that in my mind seem much better suited for adult viewers than little girls – like a pony version of George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”.
  • Started scanning my father’s collection of photographic slides – several thousand pictures coming, many of which are totally irrelevant, some of which are priceless memories.