Monday, July 31, 2006

Brenthaven Laptop Bags: MacBook Slim

I purchased a MacBook two weeks ago. I am replacing my trusty PowerBook simply because the MacBook is so much faster and Apple no longer sells a Pro compact laptop. Believe me, if there was a MacBook Pro 12 or a MacBook Pro 13.3, I would have bought one. Which means replacing my Brenthaven Pro File 12 shoulder bag. And since I have such a fond regard for the Brenthaven—compact, well constructed, protective of my computer, attractive—getting another.

Therefore, I went to and what do I see but their featured laptop bag, the MacBook Slim. The name evoked compactness, and the picture appeared to be a clone of my Pro File 12, so I mustered up the will to spend $100 on a bag, and ordered one.

It came Friday, and it is beautiful, and well constructed. And I sent it back Saturday morning. The thing is huge. Great for frequent travelers who keep their office in their bag, not so great for me, who slips his laptop into its case every morning and every evening and needs only enough extra storage for an iPod. Moral of the story: read the dimensions in product descriptions. I've asked BrentHaven to replace the Slim (width = 17.2 inches) with a Glove (width = 13.5 inches) and I'll see how that works out.

By the way, Brenthaven makes returns easy. The box they shipped me already had a pre-printed RMA address label, which I just slapped on the box and brought to the post office. (I did have to pay postage.)

Another BTW, my wife thinks my tiny Pro File 12 bag is somewhat unmasculine, and I should get a bag more in proportion to my physique. Well, I'm not that vain, I guess.

[Update: After more than two years of use, I'm quite pleased with the Brenthaven Glove as a bag for my MacBook. I shows little wear, has comfortable handles, and has protected my MacBook well against numerous bumps and the occasional short drop. Highly recommended. ]

Friday, July 28, 2006

Advice to the 30 year old car buyer

And now for something completely different. Advice on buying cars.

Three years ago, I was single, dating, and car shopping. I had always driven manual transmission two door coupes; and could easily have bought another. But I was dating with intent to marry, and had to envision what my needs might be over the course of the 5-10 years I might own my new car.

A friend of mine had started her married life with a two door, with the daily grind of dealing with a back seat baby seat. Given my plans at the time, I planned for the future and bought a four door sedan (a Honda Civic LX). Someone asked my future wife what kind of car I had bought, and on hearing the choice had said, "He must be serious then."

What I did not take into consideration, but should have, is that fewer and fewer people are adept at driving a stick shift, and my wife to be was one of them. In fact, she can't drive at all, but would like to. You might prefer a manual transmission, but your future spouse most likely will not. So my advice for anyone dating with intent to marry and shopping for a new car: buy something with at least 4 doors and an automatic transmission. You're going to have to live with your purchase for a long while.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

The Ongoing Expense of MythTV (or why is my electric bill $105 with no air conditioning?)

A few months ago, I purchased a Kill-A-Watt power monitoring device, and today I went around the house and measured the power usage of my various devices and appliances. I wanted to figure out where the 19 kilowatt hours of electricity I was using per day was going. The results surprised me.

First, I measured my refrigerator, a Sears Frigidaire which came with the house. As it's energy use varies depending on whether its compressor is running, I used the Kill-A-Watt to monitor its energy usage for an hour. After an hour, it had used .110 kilowatt hours, so it used an average of 110 Watts. Assuming this is representative of a month's usage and at 15 cents per kilowatt, in a 30 day Month I pay (0.11*24*30*0.15 )$12 keeping myself in cold raspberry ice tea.

I also measured my TiVo (32W/$3.46), and satellite receiver (28W/$2.92) as they are also on all the time. My TV and speaker system are not on all the time (really, I swear), but assuming they were on 1/3 of the time then I am spending 0.33*(.090kW+0.037kW)*24*30*0.15=$4.50 per month for the energy used by my speaker and TV systems, for a grand total of TV room energy usage of around $11, very close to my refrigeration costs.

Which brings me to the MythTV in the basement. It's a Dell 2GHz Pentium 4. Just sitting there doing nothing it draws 90 Watts. If MythTV's preview panel is showing a thumbnail preview of 720p content, it draws 120W (the same as if it were actually showing 720p content), if it's 1080i content it draws 133W. If I turn on "CPU Friendly" preview, it draws 110 Watts. Yes, that's right, whether or not the monitor is on or not, whether or not the blank screen-saver is on, the preview is using a minimum of 20W. Assuming my MythTV spends most of the month doing "CPU friendly" previewing, it's costing me $2.16/month extra just for the previewing. Therefore, I turn off previewing. Previewing or not, the computer is still drawing 90 Watts just sitting there, costing $9.72/month.

My MythTV is attached to two monitors, a 15" Sony LCD, and a 20" Dell Widescreen LCD. While on, the Dell draws 40 Watts, and the Sony draws 20. KDE had been set to use the "blank" screen saver after 2 hours inactivity. You would think, this would cause the monitors to use less electricity; not according to the Kill-A-Watt. Assuming I neglected to turn off the monitors half the time, I was spending $3.25/month powering unwatched monitors. I opened the display control panel and told Linux to power down the monitors after 2 hours which will eliminate most of this expense. Also, I often neglect to turn off my speakers (24W on/12W "off"), indicating I'm spending $2/month powering unheard speakers.

Adding this all up, and my MythTV had been costing me $17 a month in electrical costs. Turning off previewing and having the system power down the monitors should bring this down to $12 which is precisely the same amount of money I spend on my refrigerator, and coincidentally is the same amount of power used by the upstairs TV room. Now if I could only figure out where the other 11 kilowatt hours a day is going.

[Update: My MythTV box has two internal hard drives. Drive /dev/hda is used when I boot into Windows or when I want to share files with Windows. Drive /dev/hdb is used when I'm running Linux. It occurred to me I could put the unused drive into standby mode (not sleep mode) using the Linux hdparm utility, doing so saved an additional 7W. So now my MythTV computer is drawing 83W instead of 90W; I hope it's just a bit quieter now.

The following line tells my unused drive to go into standby mode after 30 minutes. I'll have to figure out which command file to put this to make it automatic.
#sudo /sbin/hdparm -S 241 /dev/hda