Archive for the ‘reviews’ Category

Sapientia Delecti, s01e11

Nomnomnom… food for the mind.


New Hotness

So I need to prime the pump of this post with a bit of foreword. It should be noted that I am decidedly NOT a mac fanboi. I’ve used a fair portion of their kit over the years for a variety of purposes, both liesure and work related. From the technical perspective, I have evaluated their products on those basis, and am willing to state the following things about their products and mentality:

  • They have, on a regular basis, been able to innovate decidedly outside of the box
  • Their ecosystem is proprietary and exclusionary, and has allowed them to make gobs of money at the expense of a healthy market (they are definitely NOT the only company guilty of such practices. That doesn’t make the fact any better)
  • iTunes software and store sucks. Sorry, it just does. And it is getting worse as time goes on
  • Their products are incredibly sexy. They take aesthetic design to a level that most companies don’t even know exist, many more simply emulate, and almost noone can rival. Off the charts
  • They have excellent support, in my experience. I’ve not had to make that much use of it over the years, but when I’ve had to, it has not let me down
  • They have managed to create a brand and consumer loyalty index that is also rarely rivaled. Those who have bought in are damn near rabid. In markets where there are so many other options, and in the few cases where an otherwise healthy competitive market exists for the particular product set… that is pretty invaluable, and might have been one of the most important reasons they’ve stayed in business during some of the tougher times
  • They support educational markets. I dig that. Even if it isn’t for purely altruistic reasons, they at least recognize that it pays off in the long run, and have (and continue to) leverage this fact. Well played, sirs … well played
  • I’m not fond of their pricing model. I speculate that part of their strategy is (or at least, was), to play to people’s vanity and price their products as the “premium” model in the markets they participate in. Yes, sure… I can chalk some of that up to needing to recover the costs associated with their high quality of engineering and design, but not that much. Also, it just isn’t true anymore. Yet they still participate in their markets with prices 20% or higher than the nearest equivalent product, and I’m sorry, but those differences in product that were once arguably differential are, quite simply, no longer true

Ok, so now you know my stance on them. I own several of their products, and where I can rationalize the price, I may very well purchase them in the future as well. But at the moment, my general “one liner” about their current product set is “I’m kind of over them”.

Well, that was yesterday. This is today. And holy shit. If I really take a damn hard look at this, and try to noodle out what the real differences are between this product (that I’m about to link) and its competitors … the list is probably reasonably short, but not insignificant. However, maybe its just I’ve got that glossy sexy shiny thing making my eyes all blurry and all, but HOLY SHIT. Apple, I gotta hand it to you… you make some sexy stuff. Without further ado… please feast your eyes:

You’re welcome.


Another tank update

A couple things to mention since the last post.

This month’s tank budget was spent entirely on replacement light bulbs. They have arrived and are now in. Finally we are getting proper light wavelengths and spectrum. And, aside from that … it is nice to have the whole tank lit during both the light and dark (actinic) phases. A few old and/or burnt out bulbs makes for a less than ideal viewing experience, to be sure. So that is done now.

We continue to experience algae issues. At some point, maybe I’ll get pics of the various types and post them, but suffice to say it isn’t going away. The weird part is that we have, effectively, nothing in the tank “feeding” it. There are only a couple fish, which should be adding almost negligible amount of waste matter to the overall ecosystem. We have only a few pounds of live rock at this point, and it probably is not doing much at all to contribute either. Nitrate/Nitrite/Ammonia levels have been effectively zero since very early on.

At the moment, I think it is a lack of biological filtration producing this problem. That can really only be remedied by having a proper live rock environment plus active refugium with macro algae to consume those resources. I think we need a bit more overall water flow, but it isn’t bad as it is now. The addition of the overflow box and wet/dry box underneath is definitely helping as well. I cleaned out the two canister filters today. They ultimately aren’t intended for a reef system, but they should help keep some of the major particulate matter from circulating.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of research on sump/refugium/skimmer systems. A few notes on that. There are dozens of vendors for each individual piece of that. They come in a variety of flavors, but the basics are as follows.

The sump tank serves a few purposes.

  • It allows you to maintain the level of water in the main tank since that level is now dictated by the overflow system. Any water level changes will now be in the sump tank, and are much easier to manage.
  • You can “hide” all the major elements that would otherwise have to occupy space in your display tank down in the sump instead, allowing you to keep the display tank relatively free of clutter. This includes things like heaters, water supplement systems (ph balancing, carbon reactors, etc).
  • You can a good part of the biological and mechanical filtration to the sump tank/refugium, again, keeping the display tank occupied with the kinds of critters you really want to see, instead of having a big ol’ glob of macro algae floating around in there. And it gives you a place to put your protein skimmer (more on that in a minute).

The refugium is mentioned above, but I’ll summarize anyway. Generally, a full reef ecosystem requires solid biological filtration, in the form of macro algae, live rock and live sand. Some of those elements would generally be unsightly in the display tank, so having a refugium out of the way is definitely aesthetically better.

And finally the protein skimmer. This is a weird contraption, but definitely essential. So it has a pump, that spins the water up inside a cylindrical chamber, and injects air into that as well. When it is functioning properly, that column of water and air creates a frothy layer of bubbles at the top of the cylinder. Fantastically, those air bubbles tend to hang onto some of the waste products in the water and that froth layer pushes up into a collection chamber and must be emptied periodically. The resultant goo is REALLY smelly and if you’ve ever seen or dealt with them before, you’ll know just how nasty that stuff is. It also stands to reason that anything smelly that nasty really has no business being in your tank. I’m going to plug one of our local businesses here briefly to show you a picture of one of these things. Give that a clicky. I’ll get more into Lifereef in just a minute. This is a much bigger model than most tanks need, and I pointed to that one just to make the parts really clear. That whole column is a spinning mass of water. It looks cloudy because of all the air bubbles. At the very top is the aforementioned collection cup, which as you can see looks very brown. And yeah, it looks and smells like sewage. Yuck.

Anyway, so I have a skimmer. It is a Coralife model, I believe intended for a 125 gal. tank. unfortunately, the collection cup dropped onto the porch and broke into a few pieces, and is not reparable. Fortunately, the replacement part is only about $40. I believe this will be the next thing purchased on next month’s budget. Even though it isn’t what we will use in the long term, since we really need one that is bigger and can handle a larger tank, it will also improve our current filtration situation.

In the last post I mentioned that I was also going to be working on getting the tank properly covered. There is some progress on that front. I made it over to Jeff’s house (he has a table saw) with my acrylic sheets, and measurements to cut them to the proper size. Thanks Jeff! That was cut to four pieces, two for each side of the tank. I have a plastic “hinge” that you then put between the two pieces and slide them in, and then you effectively get a lid that can swing up on one side while the rest remains covering the tank. The cover is there to prevent stuff from dropping into the tank from above, and also to help limit the amount of evaporation that will invariably occur. The downside of using acrylic is that it has a tendency to “bow” in the middle if the pieces are too big. It also won’t support the same kind of weight on it that using glass would, for sure. But that generally isn’t a huge issue as you aren’t normally putting stuff on top of the tank anyway. It is *definitely* easier to work with if you have to make cutouts for things like return spouts or power cords for water movers, etc. I may have been a little bit too tight on the tolerances in my measurements, and may need to make another cut to make everything fit perfectly, but it is looking good so far.

Oh yeah, one other thing to mention. So… with overflow systems, there is one really important thing to worry about. What happens if you lose power? With a poorly designed system, you are going to get a whole mess of water that still is flowing down into your sump tank that ISN’T subsequently being pumped back up! Sounds disastrous, eh? Well, it can be if you aren’t paying attention to how that all is supposed to work. On the “input” side of the overflow system, it fortunately is based on the water level in the display tank “overflowing” to provide the pressure/suction to move water down into the sump tank. If things are setup properly, if there is no more water being pumped back up into the display tank, that should level off in short order and won’t contribute more water after a short time. In our case, I can expect about a 1/2″ of water that will still overflow after the pump stops. Given a surface area of 8’x2′, that means roughly 5-6 gallons of water. Not a big deal. However… you also need to consider the output side. The problem on the return side is that you may (and probably do) have the spout for the return water submerged by a little bit. If you consider that for a moment, you’ll realize that if that is a “closed” system (so to speak), and if there is no more active pressure pushing water out (since the pumped turned off when the power went out), and given that that pipe goes down below the level of the display tank, gravity is actually going to then start sucking water out of the display tank, down the return pipe, and back into the sump as well. THAT level of water is unfortunately not dictated by the carefully controlled overflow system, only by you, and might be one or even several inches down below the level of the water in the display tank. It will continue to suck water out until the water level goes below that spigot, and sucks air back into the tube, breaking the suction. 1″ = 10 gallons. In my quick testing, a power outage would cause a SERIOUS overflow of the sump tank. It just isn’t designed for that much water. So that leads to my other discovery… you MUST have a small hole drilled ABOVE the level of the water (but facing down into the tank) on that return line. That provides an immediate suction break, since air can be sucked in as soon as there is no more back pressure from the pump. Essential! Amazing how physics just works and stuff. Dig it.

A good friend from one of my old jobs also recently got in touch (Hi Steve!) and is also getting into the reef thing with his son. He is going to come over soon to take a look at what I’ve got going on here, and we’ll hopefully be able to exchange some of our collective wisdom. I’m certainly no expert, and any advice is helpful. Apropos, we had a brief discussion on the phone the other day about Aiptasia. As it turns out, the live rock we thought was dead isn’t quite dead. We have a few of these damn pests poking up. A good reference page for what this stuff and how to deal with it can be found at this great Reefkeeping article. I was going to try and get a picture, but the conditions for taking pictures isn’t great at the moment. That site linked above has some good ones anyway. It probably does mean we’re going to need to get some Berghia (also mentioned on that site) soon to deal with them. That, in my somewhat limited experience, is the only really effective way to be rid of Aiptasia.

Finally, I did want to again mention Lifereef. In my investigations about getting sump/refugiums custom built, I found them. This guy (Jeff Turcheck) runs a company that has been doing this for 28 years or so, and his products are really something. Rave reviews on all the boards I’ve been reading about stuff, and his current backlog for building stuff is 5 months. He also sells complete systems, so you aren’t doing the “pieces parts” thing over and over and having to struggle with plumbing and how to get everything attached right. He provides *everything* to get you up and running. I’ve had numerous email exchanges with him already and one phone call, and I’m convinced that having him build something for us is the right long term solution. Downside? Expense. Instead of being able to buy a skimmer one month, then save two months and get a refugium, etc … I’ll basically have to save up about 6 months of aquarium budget to pay for the whole shot at once. His prices, once you remove shipping (since I can just drive down there and pick it up), is just slightly more expensive than what I would pay for going piece by piece. But I think that tiny extra expense is more than made up for by his quality of workmanship, 10 year warranty, and ability to provide a full solution with no hassle. That and being able to support a local business and I consider this a solid win. Now I just have to convince the budget committee (wife) and I’ll put my name on his list. We’ll see how that goes.

Good enough for now. Hopefully there will be more new info soon.



The final leg of the journey went fine, and sleep-less-ness aside, all is well. I sat out on he porch (pictures forthcoming) by myself for about 30-45 minutes once we got settled in. It was about 11am local time, and maybe 70 degrees out. There was a slight wind constantly going (as is normal here), and the bliss feeling was nearly instantaneous. My earlier complaining about the process of travel, while not invalid, was quickly outweighed by the benefits of being here in particular. I do really like it. The view is awesome off the porch. There is nothing going on here except us relaxing. No pressure to do anything or see anyone. This is, by far, the way I prefer to travel. I think we have two actual agenda items to hit while we’re here, and no particular day those things need to happen.

One is to get the kids to the beach here. There will likely be some minor stress associated with that, but no more than normal kid-wrangling for any outing, anywhere. And the second is to go fishing. No idea what is in season right now, and honestly, it is more for Madeline than me. But I’d like her to see the whole process anyway. I have no idea what she’ll think of it. She might not like it at all. Sometimes she is utterly fascinated by things that squick other kids (Zombies), and other times, the smallest things frighten her (vacuums). Its hard to predict. Right now, it seems like she is hesitating, so we’ll try to come up with a way to sell it. She’s also never been on a boat before, so that might be a challenge in and of itself.

Nearly finishing with Game of Thrones (first book). Not sure how I feel about it. It probably would have been better to read it BEFORE watching the show, to be completely fair. I am struck by how well the show has stuck to the book. Normally, there is so much license taken with making something “screen-worthy” that you either lose a lot of content, or you end up adding in things that were just flat out never the author’s intent. But so far, omissions have been small. I did bring the second book with me as well. I may take a break from that series to read one of the others I’ve brought though. We’ll see, I suppose.

And this brings up the one rationale I can possibly come up with to own a tablet reader device. Travel. I probably will read half of what I brought with me, and books just add significant weight to everything. I’d certainly much rather tote around a 20 oz. tablet with all my books on it than all the books themselves. And certainly, technical references are the same example. I can lug around a bookshelf worth of O’Reilly stuff, or a tablet with all the PDFs. Duh. Easy sell. Now that I’m focusing on management instead of pure technical stuff though, maybe that day has passed for me. In most work scenarios, I’m also going to have internet access from either a laptop or main machine, so the reasons break down there to some extent as well.

It just occurred to me that these long stream-of-consciousness posts are decidedly anti-blogorific. Blogs that are well read (at least, by me) tend to be focused on single topics and explore them thoroughly, as opposed to traipsing all over the current day’s thoughts. Maybe I’m forging a new path. Or maybe I’m just limiting who is likely to read this. Ah well. IyamwhatIyam.

More later.


Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’

I spent a bit of time today moving the blog up to my hosting provider. Ultimately, I’m trying to slowly relieve my dependence on the machine I have at home to just the core services that I can’t move. Things like MUSHes, minecraft server, mailing lists, etc. Read more


et tu CafeWorld?

And so with FarmVille, so too with CafeWorld. Read more


busy day

It was a relatively eventful day, with much ado about… eventually, nothing. Read more


Sleepytime Gorilla Museum

I just got back from my first show from this band, and I feel the need to write something down about it. I guess you might look at this as a music review, or you might not. I generally prefer to leave that in more capable hands.

Read more


Doom the Movie

Doom (Movie)


This movie lived up to expectations.

No spoilers here for those of you who want to see it. I will say that it is violent, bloody, machinegun firin’, chainsaw wieldin’, cliche ridden, adrenalin filled fun. A few nice little id/gamer jokes and you have a complete package. If you don’t like any of the above things? Don’t bother.

All in all, a fun time.

[xrr rating=7.5/10]



So with the ordering of digital cable, and the eventual addition of NHL Center Ice, we have to move the entertainment center out of the way so the guy can come in and “install” the digital cable box. Read more


Liquid cooled

So I now have a couple different friends who are swearing by liquid cooling systems for PC cooling needs. I decided to go and do the research for whats available, how much it all costs, and what the options are. Read more


Book Review

The Scar – China Miéville


I was completely enthralled with this book pretty much from the very first page. The world it is set in, the races, character types and such were familiar. I had previously read Perdido Street Station, and so much of that was already well known to me. However, there was still the same salty air of unfamiliarity that made Perdido special.

The characters are rich, flawed, scarred, remade, emotional and emotionless. For every characterization or trait, there is almost always an opposite force. He’s able to take weaknesses in the human condition, and make them not just fine points of a character, like most authors do, but lynchpins of the story line. And he does it over and over, with almost infinite variety. Naivete, greed, desire, lust, love, passion, curiosity, masochism, pacifism, megalomania … each are strengths in one half the book, and someone else’s downfall in the other.

As with his other books, China’s command of language is phenomenal. I consider myself a seasoned reader of 35 years. Each book of his I read has me going to the dictionary at least a few times to understand a usage I’d never seen before or a new word outright. That sort of challenge is always welcome in my world. But it isn’t just vocabulary … he is able to describe scenes, characters and views in such a way that everything is completely vivid. Without giving anything (completely), the scene on the island of the mosquito-women where they first land is just awesome.

I would recommend reading Perdido before this, even though this book does completely stand on its own. The time spent in the first book describing many of the races and beings you’ll meet is not wasted in this one.

I fully intend to read everything this talented author puts out, and this one in particular is highly recommended. A true genius of this age.

[xrr rating=9.5/10]


A generous waste of time

Sid Meier’s Pirates


So I’m browsing through Best Buy, wondering if there’s anything new to get, and suddenly I turn a corner and walked right into a mysterious zone with noone else around, and everything freshly surrounded by an aura of wonder. Amidst all of this was one shining box, colored brightly and artistically displaying images of swords, parrots and eye-patch’ed scurvy bastards. Read more


Book Review

Angels & Demons – Dan Brown

A Decent Distraction

This is actually the prequel to The Davinci Code, which was also excellent. Having read my fair share of conspiracy theory books, including many surrounding the Illuminatus and the Masons, I was pleased to see that he maintained about as much historical accuracy to those organizations as one is probably capable of anymore.

The book was fast paced, almost too much so. It is perhaps my one critique of it, is that it flows almost too quickly. The Davinci Code was similar, seemingly having been written for the pacing of a two hour movie. It will be interesting to see if, when either or both of these hit the big screen, whether much had to be left out. Perhaps I am spoiled by the epic 2000 pagers, like Focault’s Pendulum, and desire more research and less action. But still, it was a pleasant read.

The characters are engrossing, believable and passionate. The plot, while quick-paced, was almost never predictable, right to the very end. I even had one point where I thought I had it all figured out, only to be proven wrong several pages later. Nicely done, Mr. Brown. I will certainly continue to read his books as I find them.

[xrr rating=6/10]


Product Review

PMX 60 Neckband Headphones

Can’t beat it with a stick

So I was recently down in the Data Center, doing my usual overnight equipment setup, configuration, cable making or whatever. I had received a set of Sennheiser MX 500 earbud style headphones for Christmas, and I was listening to my iPod with them. Their cord length is just about perfect, maybe a touch too short, but generally, if I run them down my back, it keeps the wires from getting in my way, and I keep my front clear and can still listen to my tunes. Continued use, though, showed me that my ears just aren’t shaped real well to hold onto the buds very well, and over time, they need to be fidgeted with to get them to stay in, and even then, I’m not getting what I would consider well focused, directed sound.

So in doing a bit more research, the next best option seemed to be neckband style headphones. Having heard good things about Sennheiser, and having experienced the quality of the sound on the earbuds, I figured I’d try their product in this line, the PMX 60. The basic specs and a quick click on the ‘Technical Data’ link will show some pretty impressive figures for sound clarity and quality. But you know… ultimately, I need to listen to them. I want it loud, with very wide range songs, and I want it directed well along the ‘sound path’ in my ears. I just received them, and have since listened to them on a variety of sources, from the iPod to my computer to the output from the stereo/tv receiver.

Holy crap are these things nice. The sound clarity is excellent. Tones are rich and deep, never tinny and high are nice and crisp. Tone definition along the range is clear and distinct with no muddling up or smoothing along any part of the range. Just damn nice.

Another thing occurs to me too with these. I always assumed that the wraparound neckband style phones would have some sort of adjustment that would accomodate people of different head/neck sizes. They don’t. But you know something? They fit perfectly. Is this some strange new universal constant? Is the distance from the back of the neck to the top of the ears the same for every person on the planet? Color me befuddled, but grateful.

In short, I’m completely sold on Sennheiser products. These are just another in a very strong line of quality audio products, and I’d recommend them to anyone who tolerates me long enough to ask.

[xrr rating=9/10]

Return top