Monday, August 29, 2011

Dessert of the day

Home-made waffles, with organic flour, organic eggs, organic raspberries, and organic erythritol sugar substitute. With a side shot of lemoncello.

Preparation time : 10 minutes. Eating time : 6 minutes.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

PowerDirector 9 Ultra64 video performance on Intel Q6600 vs AMD Phenom II X6 1055T

I recently decided to review some of my older video and audio footage. I have been using several programs in the past for video editing including multiple versions of PowerDirector and Pinnacle Studio .

This year, Cyberlink released a native 64-bit upgrade to PowerDirector called PowerDirector 9 Ultra64. Earlier this year, I also built a new machine based on a new AMD Phenom II X6 1055T CPU. This is a 6-core machine. It had been mostly sitting idle in a corner even though it was hooked up to my KVM switch, as I was still mainly using my older machine based on an Intel Core II Quad. With prices of RAM and hard drives plunging, I splurged for some more RAM for the new 6-core box and upgraded it from 4GB to 16GB. I also added a 2TB SATA drive. And I bought the upgrade for PowerDirect 9 Ultra64. I proceeded to install the Win7 64-bit Ultimate OS on the new AMD box.

Here are the full specs for the two machines :

Old (2007) New (2011)

Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P35-DS3R Gigabyte GA-890PA-UD3H
CPU Intel Core 2 Quad 6600 AMD Phenom II X6 1055T
CPU cores 4 6
CPU clock 2.4 GHz 2.8 GHz
RAM 8 GB 16 GB
RAM type DDR2 DDR3
RAM clock 800 MHz 1333 MHz
Video card XFX 9800 GT XFX 9800 GT
Video card RAM 512 MB 512 MB
Video bus PCI-E x16 PCI-E 2.0 x16
Disk controller Intel ICH9R SATA AMD SB850 SATA
Hard disks 2 x 1.5 TB Seagate Raid 0 1 x 2 TB Seagate

Software-wise, both systems are running the same Windows 7 Ultimate x64 with all the latest patch levels as of this week-end, same 280.26 of the nVidia video drivers, same revision 2930 of PowerDirector 9 Ultra6.4 Of course other drivers such as chipset and storage vary.

I trusted that the new machine would be be significantly faster at video production, given the 6-core vs 4-core CPU, and the higher clock speed. The older Intel Core 2 Q6600 CPU also lacks some instructions that are in the Phenom II X6, such as SSE4, which PowerDirector 9 Ultra64 can take advantage of.

However, I like to trust but verify, so I spent a few hours on some performance tests, which were quite surprising. My test consisted of the latest video clip I produced . The source file was 589 MB in size, in AVCHD format, from a Canon HG21 1080p HD camcorder, and the clip was 3 minutes and 22 seconds long.

I proceeded to do some renderings. The new machine didn't feel like it was significantly outperforming the old one, if at all, which is the reason I set the performance tests in the place. I figured this might be due due to the faster RAID 0 storage in the Intel-based machine. So, I tried to eliminate this variable. I downloaded and installed the DataRAM RAM disk, which is free for RAM disks up to 4 GB. I created a 4 GB RAM disk.

I copied the source file to the RAM disk on both machines. I set PowerDirector to also output the renderings to the RAM disk. Monitor preview was turned off. Nothing else was running during the tests on either system, except OpenOffice on the Intel box to write down the rendering times. Here are the results I collected. All values are rendering times in seconds, so the shorter the better.

AVI MPEG-2 BD 1920x1080 H264 1080p H264 1080p WMV/LAN Best MP4 Best MP4 Quicktime Full HD
Fast rendering

Yes No
Yes No
H/W encoder

Yes No
Yes No

AMD – PD8 3022 169 179 177 413 167 N/A N/A N/A
AMD – PD9 U64 2930 375 376 376 376 376 376 376 630

Intel – PD8 3022 204 210 252 599 203 N/A N/A N/A
Intel – PD9 U64 2930 192 193 195 451 193 307 654 829

As you can see, the new 6-core AMD box is significantly slower than the old 4-core Intel box in most tests. The AMD is almost half the speed, except for Quicktime and H264/MP4 with hardware acceleration disabled. There seems to be some bottleneck on the AMD box as most of the rendering times are the same, except for the Quicktime case. I have yet to figure out what it is.

I peaked with the task manager for a few seconds on both machines systems during some of the tests to check CPU utilization. The CPU utilization was usually much higher on the Intel than the AMD system. Sometimes it was only in the 5-15% range on the AMD system. Stil, even on the Intel box, I never saw the CPU utilization go much higher than 70%. Both systems have their power profiles set to "high performance". Both are running without a page file. Neither is overclocked.

Perhaps PowerDirector 9 Ultra64 is optimized more towards the Intel CPUs than AMD, but this still seems like something else is wrong. I haven't run other benchmarks other than Windows experience tests, which show 6.8 for Intel and 7.2 for the AMD machine in the CPU areas. I will try to find some and run them. Perhaps there are some BIOS power management options that affect the AMD performance as well. I left most of the advanced options as defaults.

Update: I ran Sisoft Sandra benchmark software. The performance is as expected for both the Intel and AMD box. The AMD box is about 50-70% faster in most tests, as one would expect. So this issue would appear to be specific to PowerDirector.

Update 2 : I downgraded from PowerDirector 9 Ultra64 build 2930 to PowerDirector 8 (32-bit version) build 3022 . I reran my tests and added the results to the table above.

In summary :
On the Intel Q6600 box, PD9 Ultra64 takes 5 to 25% less time to render than PD8 .
However, on the AMD 1055T box, PD9 Ultra64 takes 110 to 120% longer than PD8, except for the non hardware-accelerated H264 case. Something is definitely wrong with PD9 Ultra64 on AMD.

Goldberg Variations Aria, BWV 988

I made this recording almost two years ago in my old home, using a pair of electronic MIDI controllers and a Fantom XR sound module, using an organ patch. The video and sound are straight from the Canon HG21 camcorder. The timing is a little off, but I hope you will still enjoy it.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Dell E6420 laptop & Intel HD graphics 3000 vs HP L3065 dual-link DVI 2560x1600 monitor

A couple of years ago, I purchased a very nice HP LP3065 monitor. This is a 30" model, with 2560x1600 resolution. The only connections available are 3 dual-link DVI ports. This ensures that most laptops will not be able to work with it, since they usually have VGA, HDMI or DisplayPort outputs, none of which are compatible with dual-link DVI.

Today, I got a new Dell E6420 laptop at my office, along with a Dell PR02X docking station. The station provides a number of extra ports not found on the laptop, including two DVI ports which have the full number of pins required for dual-link.

I took them both home to try against the LP3065. Unfortunately, I got an enlarged 1280x800 picture. That is 1/4 of the resolution of the monitor. This indicates that the DVI ports is actually operating in single-link mode. I'm not sure if this limitation is due to the laptop or the docking station. I guess when I work at home I will have to use the laptop on the other monitor, a 24" Gateway FP2401, which supports 1920x1200 over single link DVI.

Update : research shows that this is a limitation of the Intel Graphics 3000 chip used in the Dell E6420 laptop. This graphics chip doesn't support dual-link DVI. It is capable of 2560x1600, but only when using DisplayPort, which is not available on the HP L3065.

Unfortunately, since we are talking about a laptop, there is no way to upgrade its graphics chip. The only way would be to switch to a different laptop to something based around a more full-featured nVidia or ATI graphics chip. There may be some USB video card solutions, but I'm not sure any supports dual-link DVI, and if it does, I fear what performance will be like at 2560x1600. Perhaps there will be a suitable USB 3.0 video card capable of dual-link DVI in the future ? But then I would also have to get the USB 3.0 optional module for the laptop in addition. This solution does not exist today, and so at this point it looks like I will not be able to use my 30" monitor at home for anything work related.

Update : I bought this expensive Accell UltraAV B087B-002B DisplayPort/DVI-D Dual-Link Adapter last year, and it worked great.

Goldberg Variation 2, J.S. Bach, BWV 988

I have been learning this variation this year. This is the first recording I have posted in a long time, as well as the first one in my new home, on august 9, 2011 . I only have the audio, no video.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Facebook privacy settings still have a long way to go

I'm probably not the only person on Facebook who has, perhaps naïvely, accurately filled the "employer" field in his Facebook profile. I happen to have all my privacy setting set to either "Friends only" or "Other" for contact information.

However, Facebook can be used to login to a variety of online sites that are public, for example some discussion forums. When you do that, you are generally prompted to let the site access some of your profile information. Apparently, there seem to be few limits to how the information gets used once one has logged in to a site.

Case in point : I am a fan of the San Jose Mercury News, online edition. Not the dead tree edition. I occasionally like to comment on articles.

About a year ago, the site changed from a completely anonymous user database, to using Facebook. This was not a welcome change for me, not the least because I didn't have a Facebook account until recently.

I eventually relented and created one earlier this year, and started using it to post comments.

Imagine my surprise when every comment on the site appeared thus prefaced :
Julien Pierre · Works at [Name of major tech company deleted]

Now, I'm pretty sure my (now former) employer wouldn't have wanted this. I certainly didn't speak for them, not then and not now.

As it turns out, there is only way to prevent the employer name from being posted in public comments : deleting it from your Facebook profile. But then you won't be able to share it with your friends, either. This is the option I'm choosing. I have not updated my Facebook profile with my new employer. And I may have to delete all my former employers from it, too, just so it is clear that my forum comments are only my own.

The other way, of course, is not to login to public websites with your Facebook account. Sadly, this is not possible with the San Jose Mercury News forums anymore.

This shows that the privacy controls on Facebook are broken. The settings for my profile are clearly not respected, since they are being shown on a public forum, whereas as I have the info set to "friends only".

The fact is that the Facebook social plug-in was able to get to that information anyway. Facebook does not make at all clear that this is possible in the privacy settings.

There should be another privacy setting option to allow or prevent Facebook applications from accessing certain information.

Morale of the story : don't do anything on facebook or write anything in your Facebook profile that you don't want published on the front page of the New York Times.

Or even the public comment section of the San Jose Mercury News.

Canon ZoomBrowser EX vs multiple monitors

I have been using the excellent Canon ZoomBrowser EX software for several years, as I have owned several Canon consumer products. I like the feature set and simplicity of this program.

One of my pet peeves with it however is the slide show feature. It always goes to the primary monitor, in my case the 2 megapixel monitor on the left. It never goes to the 4 megapixel monitor on the right. There is no option in the ZoomBrowser slideshow setup to choose the monitor. Even if all ZoomBrowser windows are moved to the desired monitor, the slideshow always ends up on the primary monitor.

The only workaround I have found for this is to disable the lower-res monitor in Windows 7. Then ZoomBrowser has no choice but to display the slideshow on the one and only remaining 4 megapixel monitor.

Adobe Reader internal error

Since upgrading to Adobe Reader X , I have been suffering a similar problem as described in an Adobe support forum post.

I get the annoying pop-up when I do pretty much anything in Reader, such as pressing the PgDn key, or Ctrl-P for print. After dismissing it, reader usually works OK, but not always. Sometimes it will hang, and needs to get killed from Task manager. This only happens on one of my machines. So it's something about my individual system configuration that Reader dislikes.

Unfortunately, no one responded to the report on their support forum. I understand the software is free and Adobe can't provide individual end user support, but I hope this post will give it this bug more visibility and that it eventually will get fixed.

Cisco AnyConnect VPN vs Kaspersky Anti-virus 2011

I started at a new employer last week, which uses the Cisco AnyConnect VPN client software. I installed it on my Windows 7 64-bit system. And the VPN miserably failed to connect, for no apparent reason.

Since I use a Cisco router at home, this was not likely to be the cause of the problem. I figured it might have something to do with the Kaspersky anti-virus that I use on it. So, I "paused" the Kaspersky protection, and tried the VPN connection again. And lo and behold, the VPN worked just fine.

A few google searches later, it appears that the workaround for this problem is to mark the Cisco vpnagent.exe executable as trusted in Kaspersky.

The procedure for KAV 2010 is described here.

The menus had slightly different names in KAV 2011 that I currently use, but were close enough. No reboot was needed to apply the settings. After this change, I was able to re-enable the KAV protection, and connect to the VPN.

Where to find Thermador X302X oven meat probe

About a year ago, I bought a home which included a nice Thermador X302X double oven in the kitchen. One of the features of the top oven is the ability to use a meat probe to cook meat at the specified internal temperature. Unfortunately, the probe was nowhere to be found in the foreclosed home, and the bank wouldn't have been able to help.

I contacted Thermador to get a new probe. They informed me that they had to parts information for this model, including the probe. They were able to provide a manual for the oven, which is apparently a 1999 model. It seems that the current owner of Thermador, BSH (Bosch Siemens) is less than helpful with support for older models.

I did a lot of online searches for Thermador parts. Finally, I located this part at Amazon : For BOSCH / BSH Range Oven Baker Grill Meat Temperature Cooking Probe NEW. It only cost $15.99 delivered, so I took a chance. The probe was delivered last week. And it worked !

I used it once to roast some prime beef at 145 degrees. It was just slightly overcooked, more medium than medium rare, but pretty close. Next time I will know to set it a little bit lower.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fry's Electronics has an inventory problem

I tried to purchase a Kensington Expert Mouse Trackball today. I first looked at and checked that the item was available at the closest store to my office, which is Sunnyvale. Then I drove there. But surprise, it wasn't there.

From my smart phone, I checked and it still said the item was in stock. I placed an order from my phone. Within 5 minutes, I got a phone call from fry's saying they couldn't locate one. No apology or rain check. But they did tell me there were 3 in stock at the Campbell store. I was half doubting the information at that point, but I did drive there, and was finally found the item at Campbell's. All 3 were open box.

The only satisfying part of this shopping experience was taking advantage of Fry's new heavily advertised price matching with an online store, which turned out to be a 32% discount.

Friday, August 12, 2011

OK, maybe I spoke too soon

It looks like 3rd party apps can publish blogs to Facebook after all . Only facebook itself is no longer providing this service. I just tried a few apps :

NetworkedBlogs  : worked, and the posts looked good. But it will only once post every 12 hours for new blogs (with no followers), unless you pay. Thanks, but no thanks.

RSS Graffiti : seemed to work, and the delay wasn't too bad. But the posts on Facebook looked very plain, without any pictures.

Social RSS : only a 14 day free trial. I opted out.

TwitterFeed : free for now. This is what I settled on. By the way, my twitter is madbrainDotCom .

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Facebook's awesome support

Earlier this year, I finally surrendered and got a Facebook account.
I have enjoyed the experience somewhat. However, I find that I don't want to restrict my posts to my friends in the vast majority of cases. Hence, the revival of this blog.

I have attempted to link this blog to my Facebook account using this URL .

It simply doesn't work. It appears Facebook has been cut-off from the oustide Web. I don't know if this is intentional or not. I have filed a defect with them. There is apparently no human being looking at these issues, unfortunately. There is no e-mail tech support for Facebook, nor is there phone support. Sigh.

This blog is coming back to life :

Last year, Google turned off ftp uploading for Blogger. After a long absence, I finally got around to adding a CNAME entry to my DNS to point to a google-hosted blogger page. So, this blog is back. Be warned.