Monthly Archives: January 2014

The $750 USB Cable Intelligence Test


We all know that marketers tend to stretch the truth.  But the audio industry plays by a different set of rules, because many “audiophiles” are simply too stupid.

I remember listening to a kid claim that he had to trim his audio cables to exactly the same length so the sound would arrive at his ears at the same time. I thought I misunderstood and I asked if he meant the speaker position.  No, he said speaker position didn’t matter as much as the cables.   Apparently in his universe, the speed of sound is faster than the speed of light.

Today, someone pointed me to an article, entitled the 2013 TAS Editors’ Choice Awards: Digital Interconnects.  In the article, the “TAS Staff” gave awards the $549 AudioQuest Diamond USB Cable, and the $750 Audioquest Eagle Eye USB cable among other expensive USB cables.

That’s right a $750 USB cable.  That’s not just a rip-off, it is an intelligence test.  If you purchase one, you’re not very smart.

Don’t Put Your Resume Ahead of the Requirements

I’ve got to talk about something that has been bothering me for some time.  As a consultant, I pride myself on giving honest advice and then doing whatever the client wants, even if it is the best solution.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of developers (and some System Administrators) choosing technologies which look great on a resume, but are not necessarily the best for the client.

I was on a project where the original architects made astoundingly poor choices, and the project foundered badly.  After dropping the architectural hand grenade and the smoke cleared revealing the carnage, they found better jobs elsewhere within the company and outside the company.

In essence, they dropped their architectural hand grenades and then left the building screaming victory, leaving everyone else to clean up the mess.

Ultimately, the customer’s dislike of the product grew so much that they decided to rewrite it from scratch… in HTML/Javascript.

Should You Self-Host Your Blog or Website?

Several years ago, I started an experiment to see if self-hosting would be better than shared hosting for some of my websites.  I promptly split my websites between self-hosted, shared hosting, and a managed WordPress service.  I also tested out Amazon’s EC2 service, and RackSpace.


Self-hosting is by far the cheapest way to go.  You are probably already paying for an internet connection, so why not use it?

I setup a mac mini as the web server and served up several static websites over my DSL line.  I can’t express how much I like having full control, and the ability to fiddle with the system to improve performance.  I could also see automated hacking attempts flood in all over the world (but mostly from China).

However, when Qwest was bought out by CenturyLink, I started having problems.  I had a few DSL outages, then the billing issues started.  They stopped sending me billing notices and terminated my automatic debit for my naked DSL connection.

By far the worst DSL outage I had was a day and a half, where the fix was to reset my DSL modem to factory settings and setup the DSL modem from scratch.  Second worst outage I had was the result of a power outage while I was on vacation in Florida (the mac mini won’t automatically restart after a power failure).

Conclusion: Self-hosting isn’t all it is cracked up to be.

Shared Hosting

I had one website hosted at  The website was originally written in ASP, but I’ve since rewritten the site in an html/css/JavaScript site generated by Perl templates.

My experience with them mirrors my experiences with other low cost shared hosting providers — you are put on an overtaxed server with very little memory and disk space and reliability is an issue.  For the first year, the site would go down about once a month.

On a side note, shared hosting does NOT affect your Google search ranking, but response time will.

Conclusion: Shared hosting is not for me.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

Next, I setup an instance on Amazon Web Services.  Since I am an existing customer, I couldn’t get the one year free tier.  After setting up an instance, my first month’s bill was roughly $60, then $102.  Experiment over.

Conclusion: AWS is too expensive.

RackSpace Cloud Hosting

Finally, I tried RackSpace Cloud Hosting (formerly SliceHost).  RackSpace offers a service similar to Amazon’s EC2 service, complete with on demand provisioning of systems.  Refreshingly, they offer Gentoo.

So far, the virtual image has only gone down when I rebooted the image.  I can highly recommend RackSpace.


If you are building an SAS application and don’t have any customers or traffic, I would recommend shared hosting.  Most likely, the hosting provider will have a bigger pipe to the internet and power backup.   It will also be cheaper than a dedicated setup or even a virtual machine.

There is no reason to spend a lot of money until you start getting some traction.

Thereafter, I’d step up to a virtual host and finally, if I was making money I’d opt for a dedicated server.

Happy New Year

This is obligatory new year’s post, wherein I ponder failures, setbacks, and successes last year and plan goals for next year.

Above all, I want to wish my readers a happy and prosperous 2014 year.  For many, 2013 has been a rough year, and I’m personally hoping 2014 will be better.

If you like your insurance, you can keep your insurance.  

I empathize with all of the roughly 5 million people who lost their health care insurance due to the “Affordable Care Act” (a.k.a. ObamaCare), and who are now reeling from rate shock.

I received multiple notices that insurance available to me was cancelled or killed.  The first came from the contracting house that I bill through, when the medical insurance plan for consultants was killed because it didn’t meet the minimum requirements of the ACA. 

Next, I received a notice from the University of North Dakota explaining that the student insurance policies were being killed, again, because it didn’t meet the requirements of the ACA.  UND scrambled and was able to offer a much more expensive insurance policy with an exorbitant price tag.

Luckily for me, I kept paying on my high deductible catastrophic medical insurance plan, even though the rates kept increasing every several months.

I’m now paying the equivalent of a lease payment on a luxury SUV every month, for the luxury of having my medical bills paid, but only after I’ve paid $6,800 out of pocket first.

Privacy and Security

I have always seen curious traffic through my Chinese Zyxel DSL modem/router, even with the firewall configured to block everything but a few ports.  I didn’t give it much thought since I had secured my Linux and Mac machines.

Then, my Mac Pro was hacked, shortly before Apple and Facebook announced that an attacker had managed to infect developer’s mac’s with Trojans.  The Mac would wake up at strange hours of the night and I would see network traffic that shouldn’t be there.  I reformatted the machine only to see the infection return.  Looking at Wireshark traces, I would see traffic from odd IP addresses, even with the internet disconnected.  Turns out some of the other laptops were infected and were constantly trying to infect other Macs.


I purchased a Cisco ASA 500 and configured it.  I then nuked each one of my macs and reinstalled each OS by hand.  While I saw an enormous amount of inbound probing and automated attacks stopped by the firewall,  everything seemed normal again.

For several months, I was free from the tyranny of Chinese hackers.

That is, until the Cisco ASA 500 appliance started spewing out multicast packets and flooding the network with packets.  Someone had hacked my Cisco ASA 500 firewall.  Disgusted, I put the ASA 500 on the shelf and purchased a 40Mbps DSL modem router.

Now, my machines appear to be safe.  For now.

In 2014, I’m going to become religiously paranoid and security conscious.

Even More Education

Several years ago, I had been invited to apply for a programming job several times by a technical lead (during a consulting engagement).  Last year, I did apply, and was willing to take a big pay cut for the illusion of job security. 

The Vice President of Engineering flatly turned down my application, because I didn’t have a degree in engineering.  To add insult to injury, at the same time they gave a job offer to one of my friends, who was on a H-1B visa, telling her when she gets her green card she has a job.  I’m happy for her, but I felt snubbed.

After fuming for a few weeks, I thought really hard about it, and I decided that my midlife crisis would consist of me going back to get a second degree — an Electrical Engineering degree (which is definitely cheaper than strippers and a divorce, but not by much judging by today’s tuition).

And I started looking for work elsewhere.  The day I left, they laid off twelve permanent employees.  Since then, lay-offs have become a yearly fixture at the company.

In any event, this semester, I’m taking four courses.  I’ve slowly gotten to the point that I have relearned all of the higher mathematics that I’ve forgotten along the way.

Better Financial Decisions

Lastly, my goal for 2014 is to make better financial decisions.  To keep more of what I earn, and earn more.