What Hard Drive Should I Buy?

Brian Beach, at the Backblaze Blog writes:

My last two blog posts were about expected drive lifetimes and drive reliability. These posts were an outgrowth of the careful work that we’ve done at Backblaze to find the most cost-effective disk drives. Running a truly unlimited online backup service for only $5 per month means our cloud storage needs to be very efficient and we need to quickly figure out which drives work.

Because Backblaze has a history of openness, many readers expected more details in my previous posts. They asked what drive models work best and which last the longest. Given our experience with over 25,000 drives, they asked which ones are good enough that we would buy them again. In this post, I’ll answer those questions.

Good data.

"Rivalry Among U.S. Mobile Operators Has Wall Street Worried That The Industry's Profits Could Seriously Decline"

Sinead Carew, of Reuters writes:

After months of aggressive moves by T-Mobile US to lure customers from other carriers, No. 2 operator AT&T Inc counter-attacked on January 3 by offering to pay consumers to switch from T-Mobile. Days later, No. 3 ranked Sprint Corp promised big discounts for family and friend groups. On Wednesday, T-Mobile upped the ante, saying it would pay hefty exit costs for converts. The moves by Sprint and AT&T come after No. 4 U.S. operator T-Mobile, a long-time industry straggler, was able to report three full quarters of customer growth after four years of losses. While discounts are always welcomed by consumers, the intensifying competition is a new challenge to a U.S. industry long used to imposing its will on consumers, and analysts fear it could result in the loss of billions of dollars of revenue. How sad is it that articles such as this are able to be written? Do you mean to say that due to actual competition between the wireless carriers for the first time in years that their record profits are at risk of declining? Ridiculous. Furthermore, how sad is it that Ms. Carew is able to write an article like this couched around the idea that Wall Street is concerned, yet very little mention about how this could be a massive benefit to customers.

The Difference Between UHD and 4K

I haven’t paid much attention to news surrounding ‘4K’ or Ultra-HD (UHD) video resolutions up until very recently. I’d largely ignored the topic until the Mac Pro’s were released in December and it became a topic of discussion on ATP much to Casey’s dismay.

The topic of 4K video has crossed my radar from time to time over the past 4 or 5 years, such as when Youtube announced their support for 4K video back in July of 2010. At the time I didn’t think much of this as there was hardly any 4K content out and even fewer ways to see it in 4K. I thought of this as Google being Google in their typical way of allowing their engineers to drive their product development despite the fact that few if any of their customers would use this feature.

As a part of my job, I am responsible for all digital content at a major trade show once per year throughout whatever convention center we’re at. The trade show has between 25,000–30,000 attendees each year which means I’m usually dealing with 30–50 screens spread out around the buildings all with different content on them. To a non-green building professional this content won’t excite you but nevertheless, our marketing department find new and fun ways to make my life difficult each year in terms of formatting etc.

Over the last few years however, things have progressively gotten easier as all of the displays we rent or are given through donations (we’re a non-profit) and the computers we rent from our AV vendors have unified around 1080P for resolution and HDMI connectors. I’m able to tell our marketing folks to “just make everything 1920 x 1080” and this works for 95% of our content. [1]

You’d be surprised as how many college educated marketing & design-related people are starting new jobs, are fully versed in using Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign yet have no idea what 4:3 or 16:9 means without further explanation. I’m going to risk sounding like an old man when I said I wish college professors were teaching these people practical skills. [2]

Back to the main subject: 4K vs UHD. Recently I have seen these terms interchanged and I assumed they meant the same thing. They do not. Dylan Seeger at VS Forum writes:

Like 2K, 4K is a professional format used on the commercial side of video production most often seen by everyday consumers at commercial movie theaters equipped with the latest digital projectors. Unlike UHD, 4K has a different native aspect ratio. A true 4K image (4096x2160) has an aspect ratio of 1.9:1, while a true UHD image (3840x2160) is 1.78:1. We can see here that a 4K panel is actually wider by 256 pixels. This is a trivial number and doesn’t do much in terms of overall resolution or clarity of the image. I’m fairly certain that this minimal difference in resolution is what’s fueling many of us to call UHD “4K.”

This 256 horizontal pixel difference causes at least one major issue when dealing with consumer content. The problem is that almost all television content is presented in a 1.78:1 aspect ratio. If we were to view this content on a true 4K display, we would see black bars on the left and right side of the display to keep that original aspect ratio intact. While enthusiasts understand the reasoning behind this, most everyday viewers would find their TV content annoyingly masked with black bars, very similar to how they find black bars on their 1080p televisions annoying while viewing ’scope films. This is one of the main reasons for choosing 3840x2160 as the next-gen consumer resolution. It makes sense to keep that 1.78:1 aspect ratio as most content made for broadcast TV is presented this way.

True 4K is the resolution specified by the DCI (Digital Cinema Initiative) commercial standard. This is another area where UHD and 4K differ. Much like Blu-ray is the 1080p standard for encoding and presentation, 4K has its own set of standards that the DCI dictates. These standards are high end, resulting in exemplary image quality. While it isn’t totally clear yet what kind of video encoding standards the new UHD video format will use, all rumors point to sub-par encoding. DCI 4K uses JPEG2000 video compression, up to 250Mbps video bitrate, 12-bit 4:4:4 video, and a much wider color gamut. HDMI 2.0 will most likely dictate the standards for UHD Blu-ray (or whatever they decide to call it). Unfortunately, HDMI has very little left to give as an interconnect standard. As a result, there is no way to transport the amount of information needed to exceed or even match the 4K DCI standard. Those in the know are under NDA (non-disclosure agreements), which means we won’t know the specifics for at least another month or two. Rumors point to 10-bit 4:2:2 video for UHD video content at 24 frames per second and a doubling of the throughput to support higher bitrates.
Reading the entirety of Dylan’s article is worth it to understand the differences between the two formats and the implications of those differences. This was the first time that I had seen those differences outlined in detail and thought it best to spread the word.

  1. I still get curveballs thrown at me such as sponsor supplied videos given to me in 4:3 aspect ratios in WMV format or those awful 29:8 aspect ratio screens going into the exhibit halls in Moscone North and South.  ↩

  2. It would also help if they knew HTML and to never copy & paste content out of Microsoft Word into a WYSIWYG editor in a CMS.  ↩

"Worker Deaths Raise Questions at an Apple Contractor in China"

Another inflammatory headline from the New York Times:

"Apple supplier"? Really? Pegatron makes notebooks, netbooks, desktop PCs, tablets, other mobile devices, motherboards, graphic cards, cable modems, set-top boxes, phones, game consoles, mp3 players, e-readers, and a host of other devices for many companies - but all the New York Times can focus on is that Apple buys stuff from them so somehow this is an Apple problem? Apple is probably the only customer they have who holds them responsible in any way. Mentioning Apple in the headline is an easy way to get clicks. Android apologists will share it and then go on to explain that this is why they don't use Apple products, even though they use devices made in the same facility, for a company that does less to ensure safe working conditions than Apple does.

Nest 'Nestifies' A Smoke Detecter

I had read news that Nest was probably going to release something in this segment of the market. Given that we are mere weeks away from moving into our new home, and I'm planning two install two Nest Thermostats as it is, the announcement from Nest this morning has me very excited.

Nest Protect

A few points that I found interesting:

  • They have both battery and wired versions
  • If you also have Nest Thermostats, the Nest Protects will share information with them.
  • Information shared can do things like turn off the furnace if it detects CO2, or motion data to assist with Nests learning.
  • Sends data to its iOS application
  • You can wave your hand near the Protect to signal for it to turn off in the event the smoke is from a source you're aware of.
  • At night, it can emit low light based on its motion sensor to help light the room in the event the lights are out (presumably so you don't trip over things on your way to the bathroom in the middle of the night without having to wake up your spouse.).

Adria Richards, PyCon and How We All Lost

Amanda Blum, at her blog writes:

Adria didn’t win. I’m not sure she’s employable as a Dev Evangelist, which has been her role. Those who know her in the way I do believe she’ll use this as a platform, but I hope instead she learns from it. This wasn’t about feminism, and she shouldn’t be allowed to sit her perch on the issue. This was about the way humans relate to each other. Either way, the past 24 hours must have been terrifying for her and for that, I’m sad. Having mostly ignored this story for a few days, I just caught up on it today. After reading Amanda Blum's post on the subject, I find myself in 100% agreement with her.

Why A One-Room West Virginia Library Runs a $20,000 Cisco Router

Nate Anderson, at Ars Technica writes:

In total, $24 million was spent on the routers through a not-very-open bidding process under which non-Cisco router manufacturers such as Juniper and Alcatel-Lucent were not "given notice or any opportunity to bid." As for Cisco, which helped put the massive package together, the legislative auditor concluded that the company "had a moral responsibility to propose a plan which reasonably complied with Cisco's own engineering standards" but that instead "Cisco representatives showed a wanton indifference to the interests of the public in recommending using $24 million of public funds to purchase 1,164 Cisco model 3945 branch routers." After having dealt with Cisco personally at my current job, this doesn't surprise me.

App.net Launches Free Tier

Dalton Caldwell, at the App.net Blog writes:

Although App.net has had only paid account tiers thus far, we initially conceived of App.net as a freemium service. It took some time to get to this point, but we are now ready to make this vision a reality. Sorry folks but I've already sent out my existing invites. You must have an invite to create a free account, or you can just subscribe like the rest of us.