Mark Gilbert's Blog

Science and technology, served light and fluffy.

Experimental road work ahead

On Saturday, I repaved my machine – completely reformatted and reloaded the OS and all software.

I didn’t decide to do this until Saturday morning.  The night before I had tried to get my Kinect hooked up as a web cam for use with Skype.  I mean, it’s a video camera, right, how hard could it be?  Famous last words.  As it turns out, the Kinect camera doesn’t register itself with the OS in a way that Skype can recognize it as a web cam.  Then I found a guy who wrote a shim called that addresses this very issue.  The .ax file is a binary that needs to be registered with the machine, and after several failed attempts, I finally managed to get it registered.

But Skype STILL wouldn’t recognize that a camera was attached.

This was the latest in a line of things I’ve tried to do with my machine over the last couple of years that hasn’t worked despite my best efforts.  I didn’t have the stomach to sit through another marathon debugging session, so I purchased a Logitech web cam and hooked it up to my wife’s computer.  Within 15 minutes we had the camera hooked up and working, and were happily Skyping away.  To be fair, I did not try to hook the Kinect up to my wife’s machine, or try to register on it.  It’s entirely possible that it would have worked on her machine.  But on that Friday night, I hated computers.

I woke up Saturday morning with a fresh thought.  I’ve had many more things not work on my machine than on my wife’s machine, and the main difference is the edition of Windows 7 – hers is 32-bit while mine is 64-bit.  Perhaps if I had 32-bit on my machine, I wouldn’t have as many problems.  So, I decided to repave it, and load Windows 7 32-bit.  This would be my first of three experiments – how big a deal it is to load various pieces of software onto my machine?

Since I was starting fresh, I decided to scrap another piece of my original master plan.  When I first loaded Windows 7 on this computer, I actually installed it twice – the first was the "base" OS, and then I loaded a Windows 7 virtual image on top of it.  My thought was that I could periodically save off the virtual image, with all of my software and configuration settings, to an external hard drive.  Then, if I ever needed to reformat my machine, I just load the base OS, copy the virtual OS file image over, and fire it up.  Voila!  Nearly-instant computer.  While I did periodically back my virtual image up, I never found a need to reload it.  And because the virtual image was, well, virtual, I was losing out on at least some of the power of my machine.  So this time, I just installed a single copy of Windows, right onto the metal.

Now, because I’ve loaded Windows 32-bit rather than 64-bit onto the metal, I’m losing out on almost half of the 6GB of RAM in the machine, but this leads to my second experiment – how does Windows 32-bit running on the metal with 3+ GB of RAM compare to 64-bit running virtually with 6GB of RAM?  The answer so far appears to be "slower".  My screen saver of choice for many years now has been SETI@Home.  Last week on 64-bit / 6GB, it would run very smoothly, and with no noticeable jerkiness.  Now, with 32-bit / 3 GB, it is VERY jerky.  In fact, the animation comes to a stop every few seconds.  Since the processor in both of these tests is the same, I can only conclude removing almost 3 GB of available RAM is the problem.  SETI@Home isn’t a primary application for me, so I can survive if that’s a bit slower.  I’ll have to see how various games like LEGO Harry Potter perform.  I may decide to go back to 64-bit before this year is out, which leads me to my third experiment…

How little software can I get away with loading?

For many years now, I’ve maintained a growing list of software to install on my computer.  I’ve averaged about one full reload – either a work machine or a home machine – every year for over a decade.  In having to do it about once a year, it quickly became apparent that I couldn’t keep track of all of the various utilities, applications, and tools I use, let alone the order that they need to be installed in, where to find them, or what the keys are for each.  I started a document to track all of that.

My work machine is definitely a beast when it comes to things I use on a regular or semi-regular basis – so much so that if I started from scratch, and even if I had everything at hand, it would still take me the better part of two days to reload my machine.  My home setup isn’t much better.  I didn’t want to go through that this time around.  I decided to load just what I knew I would need to use in the next two weeks, and the rest of the list will be loaded on an as-needed basis.

The upside here is that it drastically cuts down on the time needed to install the OS fresh.  That means that if I do decide to reload Windows 64-bit, I’ll only be out a few hours.  The possible downside is how annoying it may be to load something new up when I discover I need it.


The other thought that has been in the back of my mind is how much of what I use on my machine could actually be put in the cloud?  Already, I use cloud-based applications for email, a personal wiki, calendaring, my contact list, and so on.  If I could push more of what I do into the cloud, it means less computer is needed, and a much faster reload time.  Of course, the cloud has its own drawbacks – if you can’t connect to the interwebs, you’re sunk.

Baby steps, Mark.  Baby steps.

July 11, 2012 - Posted by | General, Tools and Toys

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