Archive for September, 2010

*bang head here*

Friday, September 24th, 2010

Get in the door at the office around 7:30am… first problem report comes in at 8:20, a user can’t access their voicemail. Most likely our antique’s roadshow quality voicemail server has gone toes up again. I follow SOP and notify my users by email that the phones will definitely be down for a few minutes as I fix the problem.

About a minute later, I get an IM…

Them: Phones are down.
Them: What?
Me: Check Your Mail
Them: for what

At this point, blood pressure goes up since this fella has a knack for evoking such a reaction, so I proceed to start fixing the problem… then another IM comes in about a minute later…

Them: are you aware of this?

So I figure out the problem, fix it, and send an email out notifying my users that the problem is fixed…

One minute later, I get an IM from the same user…

Them: phones are back up.



Friday, September 17th, 2010

A long time ago, most decent websites decided – like everyone else – that popups were evil, and generally stopped using them, or at least used them a lot less. Personally, when I go to a site, I want to see what I clicked for, not get inundated with a bunch of crappy popups.

Since the browser industry got wise and came up with effective popup blockers, some sites have had to resort to other, even MORE annoying tactics. My favorite? I click a link, start reading the content, and within a few seconds a box appears DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF WHAT I’M READING. Sometimes its obvious how to close these boxes, other times it is not. Better yet are those damned ads which take over an ENTIRE SCREEN.

Look, marketers. I don’t care what YOU think I should look at. If it was so impressive, I would have followed a link to get there. The fact that you feel the need to obscure whatever actually brought me to your site with CRAP means that I’m simply going to X out of the page AND NEVER RETURN.

RRoD: 1, Sam: 1

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

So the fix lasted until I got home last night.  Initially the system worked fine, but then it started locking up.  It installed an update from Micro$oft, but eventually I had the 3 lights RRoD again.

Solder problem still exists, tried the towel trick – no luck.  Going to pick up the 360 Slim today, and if I can get the old one fixed, donate it to a needy gamer… lol

Figure I’m going to pop the old one open again, visually inspect the solder points and see if there’s anything I can do there, reseat the heatsinks again using actual arctic silver instead of ceramique, and then see what happens.

RRoD: 0, Sam: 1

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

I’m on my second Xbox 360, the first was replaced after several years of use, for free, by Microsoft due to the Red Ring of Death problem.

Long story short, the Xbox 360 was poorly designed from an airflow standpoint, which allowed the GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) to overheat, which caused soldered connections to come undone, then a RRoD.  Originally, there was a single heatsink below the DVD drive for the chip.  Microsoft improved on this design (barely) by adding a second heatsink as well as a heat pipe to transfer heat from the main heatsink to the smaller one that has indirect airflow from the system’s cooling fans.

It could be improved vastly by adding more direct airflow, better fans, using non-conducive ceramic based heat sink grease in a smaller (read: not globs) amount, as well as not relying on the tension of so called ‘X-Clamps’ to maintain pressure on the heat sinks as well as pressure on the processors to keep them firmly planted in their seats.  From what I hear, even the new slim Xbox 360 has the same faults.

So last night the RRoD popped up while using Netflix Instant.  I shut the system down, turned it back on, and it worked.  Later on I went back to use Netflix again, RRoD.  I shut it down, dusted it, unplugged it, nothing worked.  Same thing this morning.  So I get to work with the simple goal – fix it myself.  Microsoft wants $99 to fix it.  There are various companies online which sell kits to replace the X clamp, add the modified heatsink, etc… still – why spend money why I don’t have to?

I followed the directions posted at to the letter, and chose their method over others as their method maintained the secure mount between the mainboard and the case.  The other examples I saw had you bolting the heatsinks directly to the motherboard, which will cause strain and eventual failure of other components.

Everything was fairly straightforward, a few modifications though… you are going to be re-seating and replacing the X clamps on both processors, so you will need 24 of the M5x1mm washers, 16 of the Nylon M5 x1mm washers, and 8 M5 Cheese head 12mm screws.  The online kit will run you $5 per processor, plus tax and shipping.  The heat sink paste will run you another $5 at least, plus tax and shipping.  They also recommend using the Arctic Silver ArtiClean heatsink paste remover at a cost of $6, plus tax and shipping, it works, but rubbing alcohol is abundant and generally most folks already have it on hand.

I already had ceramique (free), and rubbing alcohol (free).  I paid $2 for the 8 screws, $2.64 for the metal washers, and $1.76 for the nylon washers.  I also had to spend $27 on a toolkit (torx bit) as I didn’t have a #8 torx bit, which is necessary to remove the X-Clamps as well as the daughterboard on the front of the 360 that controls the power button and idiot lights.  At most, going the hardware store route, you’re going to spend around$15 if you have the tools already.  Take the online route, you’re looking at a minimum of $21, plus tax and shipping.  Your call – still costs less than the $99 that Microsoft wants to ship a refurb with the same flawed design that will eventually RRoD on you.

The other change I made to the way they suggest doing it – is not using metal washers at all above the motherboard, a single 1mm nylon washer will offer enough clearance to adequately torque down the heat sink as well as ensure that the heat sink is making full contact with the die of the processor.  Initially, following their design to the letter resulted in an immediate system shutdown due to overheating.  Once I removed the metal washers and left the nylons ABOVE the motherboard, everything worked fine.

I also attempted to overheat the system without luck.  Overheating is key to the fix as it softens the solder around the GPU enough to allow it to securely reseat.  I may be in store for another RRoD, if thats the case I’ll use the towel trick to overheat the system.

I love the 360, and now that I know how to repair its most glaring problem – am satisfied that this machine will last long enough for me to pick up the next generation in a few years.



Monday, September 6th, 2010

Two weeks ago I decided to put my ‘casual’ smoking habit on hiatus indefinitely. Every once and a while, I crave a smoke. I’m lucky in that I can smoke a cigarette, or a pack of them, and then not be bothered with them sometimes for weeks or months on end. Still, each time I have one, I’m risking cancer, COPD, etc… Generally the whole ‘lack of oxygen’ thing bugs me too.

A while back, a friend had picked up a pack of Blu Cigs, I tried them – and to my surprise they worked very well. Back to two weeks ago, I ordered a starter pack. The pack itself is a charger, holds 2 batteries, 2 atomizers (what makes the “smoke” aka water vapor) and 5 spare cartridges.

The way it all works is pretty neat. You press a flavor cartridge onto the atomizer, screw both onto the battery, and puff away. The flavor cartridge is nothing more than water, flavor, and nicotine (non-nicotine varieties are available). When you inhale, the atomizer heats up, turning the flavor into vapor, and you get your fix.

It hits like a cigarette and drags like one too. Depending on the type of drag I take, I can get anywhere from a day to a half a day out of a cartridge. A normal drag results in a fair amount of vapor, a longer lasting cartridge, and a longer lasting battery. Slow, steady drags will result in a more authentic heavy puff of smoke, but it wears out the cartridge quicker, and also drains the battery quicker.

It satisfies the habit, the oral fixation and sensation of smoking. It also satisfies the craving for the stimulant, nicotine. Inhaling it in this method IMHO results in a more pure shot of nicotine, since you’re not having to deal with the tar, chemicals, filter, etc… in a normal cigarette.

Another perk – for those of us who are idiots and smoke when we have a cold… You’re essentially sucking on a vaporizer. My usual cold that my step-daughter brings home and results in me getting bronchitis hasn’t really kicked in as hard since I’m getting healthy doses of pure water vapor on a regular basis.

The benefits don’t end there though, another thing you will NOT get from these, are the smell, the light-headed sensation from the lack of oxygen, the yellow teeth, the stigma of being a smoker, and God willing no cancer.

The starter pack runs $60, and flavor cartridges can be had for anywhere from $25 to $80 depending on how much you want to order. One pack has 25 cartridges which should last you at least 1 day per cartridge (results will vary depending on how much you use them). With the cost of a pack in New York being $10 minimum, a pack a day habit will cost you $300 a month. A pack a day habit of Blu’s? $25-$50. Yeah. It’s a no brainer.

The pack and the cigarettes themselves can charge off of a USB, and the pack itself can also charge off of a wall outlet. I just ordered my fiancee a starter kit, and my brother in law will get his soon as well. Personally, I started at the ‘light’ variety with 12mg of nicotine. My next order will be for 8mg, and after that, 0mg… I’ll just be inhaling flavor and water. Even if you’re not going to kick the nicotine, from a health and cost standpoint – how can you not use these things?