Faster Internet Browsing in Windows

Browser Speedometer GraphicsOn the Windows platform there is a memory wall that many people are experiencing. Namely, that Windows does not utilize all of your physical memory once you have 4GB or more of RAM, unless you are using Windows XP 64-bit or Vista 64. Instead of letting that extra memory go to waste, I thought why not utilize it in some other way. A long time ago we had the opposite problem with computers, where processors were slow and we tried to speed things up in any way possible. Today, we have a lot of processing power and abundant memory and now it is the software that needs to catch up to the hardware. Given this, I thought why not use a some of that extra memory and load it as a RAM disk. Then if you think about it, the most often used application in today’s computing is the web browser, which uses your hard drive to cache content. This sounds like a perfect opportunity to use a RAM disk and speed up your browser’s disk caching. IE and Firefox both make it easy to modify your disk cache directory too, so the biggest problem seems to be trying to setup the RAM disk in Windows. There are multiple commercial solutions, but only one free solution that I could find that works well.

First thing to do is setup the RAM disk. If you do not want to purchase a commercial RAM disk driver, you can implement this free RAM disk driver for Windows Vista, XP, 2000 and 2003 Server. You will want to have a RAM disk that is slightly larger than both IE and Firefox disk cache sizes put together.

Firefox:

  1. Type about:config in Firefox’s address bar and enter
  2. Right-click and choose New – Integer
  3. Input the following in the dialog box: browser.cache.memory.capacity
  4. Input a value in the next dialog box, such as 24000, which means 24MB
  5. Then in the Filter: bar enter browser.cache.disk.parent_directory
  6. If this setting does not appear, then you will have to create a New – String with the above name
  7. The value should be a drive path to your RAM disk, such as M:\Firefox
  8. Once you have both settings, close out of Firefox and start it back up again.

IE:

  1. In Internet Explorer, click Tools – Internet Options
  2. Locate Temporary Internet Files and click the Settings… button
  3. Change the Amount of disk space to use: to the appropriate size you want
  4. Click the Move Folder… button to select a folder on your RAM Disk. If you used the free RAM Disk, your RAM disk should have a TEMP folder at the root, just choose this folder.
  5. Click OK and close out of IE

Note:

Depending on your computer, your experience may vary. On my Windows laptop and desktop, the speed with which Firefox 3.5 launches is vastly improved. I do not use IE much, so it is hard for me to evaluate the differences there.

Apache 2.2 on Windows Session Cache Error

Apache IconThere appears to be a bug with Apache 2.2.13 which I ran into on Windows Server. See the following bug entry: Bug 23403. Opening the error.log for Apache showed the following warning:

warn Init: Session Cache is not configured (hint: SSLSessionCache)

Adding the following lines to the httpd.conf fixed the problem:

SSLSessionCache        "shmcb:c:/Apache/logs/ssl_scache(512000)"
SSLSessionCacheTimeout  300

Note: your Apache installation directory is probably different, so you will want to modify the above file path.

iTunes Install on Windows 2003

iTunes LogoFor some reason, Apple has stopped supporting iTunes on Windows 2003 and changed their MSI installer to fail. However if you still prefer to run iTunes on your Windows 2003 Server, you can still modify the iTunes installer by using installer tools such as Microsoft Orca (see Microsoft’s Tutorial on how to modify MSI files) or InstEd. Using InstEd, I was able to install iTunes 9 on my Windows 2003 machine.

  1. First download the iTunes installer from http://www.apple.com/itunes/download/.
  2. Next use WinZip or WinRar to extract the contents of iTunesSetup.exe to a folder.
  3. Now comes the difficult part, you will need to check each of the .MSI files with InstEd or Orca. Open each file one at a time and look for the LaunchCondition settings. You will need to remove this parameter and its value: ((VersionNT=501 And ServicePackLevel>=2) OR VersionNT>501). Once you do that just Save and Exit.
  4. With the modified MSI files, now start installing them one at at time. Leave the iTunes.msi for last though. The SetupAdmin.exe can be ignored. You do not need to run that one.

If this was a perfect world, you would now be able to launch iTunes 9 on your machine, but since it is far from perfect, you might be staring at this error message:

The iPod Service service failed to start due to the following error: The service did not respond to the start or control request in a timely fashion.

To complete the install, leave the error up on the screen and go launch Services.msc, find the iPod Service and open its properties. You will need to add an account with admin rights and then save the changes. Now click Retry on the error and see if it works.

Additional Resources:

Updates:

The easy fix that works, is to right click on the iTunes installer and choose Properties. Then go to the Compatibility tab and check “Run this program in compatibility mode for” and choose Windows XP from the pulldown list.

Waiting On Apple To Buy

Dollar SignsThis seems to happen to me every two years, I become bored with all my technology and wait on Apple to wow me with something new. The unconverted peers around me just scoff at the idea of just throwing money away on another expensive Apple product that isn’t worth it to them. Then again, most of them admit they secretly love their iPod, even though they hate Apple. Coming back to my need for a technology fix, I have even walked down the NetBook displays at the local BestBuy and touched one or two NetBooks, thinking to myself, “Why Not?” only to come away with a sense of utter disappointment at how bare boned these NetBooks really are. The majority of them, remind me of the cheap knockoff toys I bought when I was a kid, when I really could not afford the actual Voltron. Pretty much, NetBooks kind of suck. The iPod Touch and current iPhone GS have more appeal than any $400 NetBook.

Aside from Apple, I was in Houston Texas a week ago and stopped by the Sony Store in The Galleria Mall. Other than Apple, Sony is equally appealing when it comes to technology, after all I have only bought like thirty or so Walkmans in my lifetime. It seems Sony is the only PC vendor who makes interesting consumer laptops, but even the coolness of a Sony design was not enough to satisfy me. I guess that is one thing that Microsoft totally dismisses about consumers in their commercials. Sometimes people just want to buy something cool, and all reason goes out the window. I remember years ago, consumers had to buy a Pentium computer for no reason other than it came with that shiny new Windows95 that let you do things like multi-task. Microsoft should remember that for many consumers Minesweeper and Solitaire were the most used applications on Windows. What impressed me more than computers at the Sony Store, were their televisions. The higher end models are internet enabled and allow you to browse the web and access media servers. I assume this is similar to the Playstation 3, so most likely Flash video performance will be disappointing, but still I think this is interesting. Regular television is dying, and consumers really want to see YouTube and other Internet content on their television, especially now that HD Television is standard. Although I did not walk out of the Sony Store that day with a new television, I am considering a new television for this holiday season. Price wise, it was impressive that Sony’s lower end LCD televisions are more affordable than ever. A basic 32 inch with 720 resolution is now $500 and a 42 inch is not that much more. These sets use to cost about $3000 a few years ago.

Due to the economic recession, most companies are in save mode. The best example I can note is the video game industry in which most game developers have scrapped new product releases and instead are pushing out repeat sequels of past successful games. Their hope is that they can save on expenses and survive the economic situation. However we are in now the third or fourth quarter of this recession, and the effect of cost cutting has come and gone and now all you have left is whatever current income you have. This makes it difficult for most companies because the products they have out there are totally unappealing and no matter how you dress them up, consumers know this and won’t put good money towards products that are based on past technology. The coolness factor matters now, more than ever! Without a shiny product, consumers who want to buy will think twice. Impulse buying will be hard to come by this holiday season and this means more bad news for companies.

Given all this, I am still waiting on Apple to deliver. Sure, I will go ahead and get my Snow Leopard Upgrade and think about replacing my iPhone come 2010, but I still need something with a wow factor to burn my money on and I am sure Apple will eventually deliver, but the wait always feels like an eternity.

XM Satellite Radio

XM Radio LogoIn April 2009, I did what I thought I would never do, namely walk out of an auto dealer’s lot with a brand new vehicle. With the economy being more like a depression, and the automakers desperate to make a deal, I thought this was an excellent opportunity to get what I wanted. In this case, it was a new Chevy Silverado Crew Cab Pickup. The new truck is simply great and I must admit that driving a new vehicle does give you a certain smugness, which took me a month to get over. I will try to post something in the near future about the new truck, but this post is about XM Satellite Radio and why I ended up keeping it. Most new GM vehicles come with a 90 day trial of XM Radio and the Silverado was no different.

The GM Factory Deck

First up is the GM deck. In my case, the GM deck acts as both a regular AM/FM receiver and XM satellite receiver. It also performs a third function, which is to perform some OnStar functionality, such as Turn By Turn directions and display messages for your built-in satellite phone. After a while, you will notice that the deck is pretty simple to operate. The main features are that it has a built-in equalizer for sound adjustment and six menus of favorite stations (you can designate both XM and regular radio stations within the same favorite menu list). The deck does not have an LCD display and so is not stunningly hi-tech in appearance.

XM Stations

Unlike regular radio, XM has no commercials for most of its stations and interruptions are very minimal. The disc jockeys are not annoying either and are for the most part fans of the music they play. My all time favorite channel is The Boneyard, which plays classic rock music including some metal bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. In the past three months, I’ve listened to some songs I have never heard before. The variety is amazing, but even classic rock stations will run into some repeats from Billy Squire and Judas. Overall though The Boneyard tries not to repeat the same songs.

Moving on, there are other stations like Hair Nation channel 41 which plays hairband rock music from the 80’s, Liquid Metal channel 42 which is home to heavy metal only, and variety stations like Classic Rewind and Rock@Random. Hair Nation plays a little too much White Snake for my tastes, but hey, you gotta love some Cinderella and Motley Crew, right?

For non-rockers, there are other genres too, like Country, Classical Music, Soul, Disco, and Alternative 90’s rock which I still don’t consider to be real rock music. Music wise XM has pretty much everyone covered. The one glaring problem I see with XM is the lack of Latino music. There is Caliente, but that is just one station and so there seems to be a lack of serious Spanish music variety on XM. You would think they would have at least three Spanish stations, but nope they just have one.

Other than music, XM covers Sports, Weather, News, Political Commentary, and Comedy. If you have kids or just want to block certain channels from your receiver, you can do that by going to XM’s website and setting up filters for your account.

Is it Worth Paying For?

Right now the price is pretty reasonable. The cost starts at around $15 a month for a basic lineup. Reception in my GM vehicle is also excellent unless I am in a parking garage or in a drive-thru that happens to block reception. In Iowa, my experience is that XM reception is better than FM radio. Note that on extremely cloudy days you might run into reception issues, but even with Iowa’s mostly cloudy days, this does not seem to be a problem very often.

It is quite hard to go back to regular FM radio. With XM, I don’t feel the need to plug-in my iPod or carry CDs anymore. I can just sit back and turn on XM and rock out whenever I feel like it, and now isn’t that why you have a radio in your car in the first place!