The Best Pasta Salad in the World

I was lucky enough to be served this dish at a birthday party, and I insisted on getting a copy of the recipe.  I could eat it for every meal!  It's lightly sweet, but still a bit tangy, and oh soo satisfying.

I'm posting this recipe so I have it with me whenever I go to the grocery store.

Stacy's Pasta Salad:
1lb penne noodles
1.5c oil
1.5c red wine vinegar
1.5c sugar
1 Tbl. minced onion
1 Tbl. parsley flakes
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. garlic powder or 4 fresh cloves
1.5 tsp. pepper

4 cucumbers
1 lg green pepper
1 lg red bell pepper
1 lg red onion

Cook noodles 10-15 min.  Mix oil, vinegar, sugar, minced onion, parsley, salt, garlic, and pepper together.  Add noodles rinsed and drained.  Add cucumbers halved and sliced.  Add red onion thinly sliced.  Add both bell peppers thinly sliced.  Mix it all together in large bowl. 

You can eat it immediately, but it is better if left overnight in the refrigerator so that everything steeps into a delicious brew.  Yum!


Lian Li TU200 Build

Anandtech recently posted a review of the Lian Li PC-TU200 case. There are many points I agree with, but I've learned some things during my build that might help others avoid some of the issues Anand reports. Building a case of this size requires a lot of planning, and some spare funds. There are better options for a SFF than this one if a handle isn't a requirement. 

The Lian Li PC-TU200 is a mini-ITX. It's the first small form factor system I've built, and it is not cheap - $179.99 at NewEgg on 9/29/11. I've been toying with the idea of a SFF with a handle for years. The closest prior contenders were both Silverstones: the Falcon Northwest FragBox and the Sugo SG04B. I realize there are other cases out there with handles, but after hefting a few, I wouldn't trust them to carry my wallet, much less hundreds of dollars in hardware. The Lian Li gets a big thumbs up - I could probably let the kids play ring-around-the-rosy with it and not worry about the handle breaking.

The handle is plastic but rugged, and nicely color-matched to the aluminum:

And it's not going anywhere:

The case itself is small and relatively lightweight.  This isn't your standard thin metal case (or thin metal soda can!), but still a nice lightweight aluminum, just 7 lbs.:

The included parts are are of a good quality as well - no need to go digging through your stash for leftover pieces:

The case itself is thick enough that it doesn't need sound dampening, but Lian Li even added it to (traditionally) thin the motherboard cover:

Removing the side panels is unbelievably easy.  Enjoy it, because it's the last thing that will be.   The little latches at the top back of the case remove their respective sides.  They're very sturdy yet easy to use.  I didn't have to remove any screws to throw the switches like the Anand reviewer.

The side panels are held on by very small plugs, but there are enough of them that it is very sturdy.  The Anand review correctly notes that there is very little space behind the motherboard tray for wire routing.  I didn't even try. 

This case is smaller to work in than it looks once you start building it.  You have to remove the hard drive cage to get access to everything.  Be sure you have a bowl around to hold the million screws you're going to have to remove as you work.

I got a great deal on an i5-2500k (price matching at NCIX for $179.99).  I could have saved $10 and gone with the standard i5 if I had realized I wasn't going to my motherboard with overclocking capabilities in this form factor.  My requirements for the motherboard were:  built-in wireless N, built-in bluetooth, at least two SATA 6Gbps (SATA III) ports, decent onboard audio (no room in case for a sound card, onboard USB 3.0, and 8GB+ RAM capable.  I considered the Zotac Z68s, but I knew I was going to have a video card, and I simply don't trust the brand - too many bad reviews on Newegg.  I went with the ASUS P8H67-I Deluxe Rev 3.0 from Mwave for $139.  Good reviews and it met all requirements.  If I'd paid more attention to the chipset specs, I might have considered the Zotac Z68 a little harder.  You're stuck with stock speeds.  On the flip side, considering the initial heat issues with this case, in the long run I'm probably better off at stock speeds.

One downside to the Asus is that it requires So-DIMM RAM.  I had picked up a nice deal on a 16GB RAM package a couple of months earlier, and really, really wanted to use it.  I had to set that aside for the next build and go ahead and buy RAM.  16GB So-DIMM is still ridiculously expensive, and Newegg had a deal on G.Skill DDR3 1333 ($34.99), so I ended up with 8GB. 

My initial build also used my existing Antec 550W ($0), two 7200rpm 1TB drives ($0), a temporary 160GB 7200rpm that I wanted to pull some files off, and the Crucial SATA-III 128GB SSD ($130) I had picked up on sale a couple of months earlier.  It had just been waiting for me to get to this build!  My old LG Blu-ray Burner never had Windows 7 drivers published, so I grabbed a spare DVD-burner ($0).  I'd bought a Geforce GTX460 about 6 months earlier, and that fit easily into the allowed 300mm space in the case. 

Total cash outlay for initial build:  $524.97. 

The one included case fan is the right size, and there's really very little on the market that is likely to outperform it.

There's very little space between the PSU and the CPU for a cooler - max height 80mm.  You can find a million and one great cooling options, until you have a height limit like this.  My original build went with the stock cooler - I wanted to see how well it would perform.  Lesson learned:  don't go with the stock cooler. These pictures show the space between the stock cooler and the bottom of the PSU - tiny!

Final build was very tight, and the standard ATX power cables took up a huge amount of room:

I ran it like this for a couple of days, and quickly realized that there simply wasn't enough space for airflow - I was constantly getting heat warnings and and having to shutdown.  So, back to the drawing board.  I ordered some new parts, and unhappily went at it again.

I removed the extra hard drive to free up a little more room for air circulation.  I left the two 1TB drives in the system, figuring I could always remove one of them later if needed.  My new power supply choice was the Strider Plus ST50-P from SilverStone of a slightly smaller length for SFFs ($79.99).  I also ordered the optional SilverStone PP05 short cables ($19.99).  The new PSU was also bronze certified, and 50W smaller.  These pictures show the size differences between the PSUs and the cable lengths:

Original cables on the top, "short" cables on the bottom:

The stock cooler simply couldn't cut it, and I looked hard low profile coolers (not sure why Newegg and the other retailers don't have this as a search choice!), but I didn't want to invest an arm and a leg with the limited choices and reviews available.  I read reviews and finally went with the SilverStone NT07-1156 $24.50).  Yes, this looks almost exactly like the Intel stock cooler, but it's drastically outperformed it.  To top it off, I added Mad Dog Techie Toyz Arctic Silver 5 thermal compound ($7.49).

Final total cash outlay:  $656.94. 

Anand really dinged the Lian Li in its review for the hard drive cage.  I agree that a slim optical drive (or none) makes more sense.  For those that want a portable computer, they're probably willing to give up hard drive bays in favor of cooling - 2 would have been sufficient, possibly 1 SSD and 1 platter.  The molex connectors were a pain, but the way the power ports were built into the cage meant that I only needed one power cable (with 2 molex) for all the HDDs.  I tried to seat the SSD in the bottom of the cage per the instructions, but simply couldn't make it fit right - Anand had the same issue.  I finally said 'screw it', and simply plugged it into the third power plug in the cage and let it dangle.  It's not likely to suffer if it drops out, and it actually fit fairly snuggly.  It feels secure enough for daily use.

The smaller PSU meant I wasn't jamming the PSU against the hard drive cage to get it to fit.  The final build was much neater:

Additional issues:  The Silverstone PSU doesn't include a built-in cable for graphics card power, which was a bit of a surprise.  My GTX 460 requires two power plugs, and the shorter cable didn't include a double end for the graphics card.  I had to revert to the "standard" length cable for the video card so that I could use the double-ended PCIE cable.  Pay attention to your graphics card power requirements when selecting your PSU. 

Other recommendations:  Installation order is going to matter!  Think your steps through carefully.  I'd suggest:
  1. Remove hard drive cage;
  2. Move air filter to inside of case (rather delicate to leave in an exposed position outside);
  3. Install motherboard;
  4. Install CPU and CPU cooler;
  5. Route all cables into their general positions, including disconnected modular cables for your power supply;
  6. Install hard drive(s) in cage.  If you're not filling every bay, then think about spacing them in relation to the fan to allow optimal airflow.
  7. Install optical drive;
  8. Install hard drive cage, but leave the support pillar out.  Hookup power cables and make sure you're happy with positioning.
  9. Install video card, including routing the card's power cable, if it requires one;
  10. Move all cables into final positions and tie down all but power cables;
  11. Connect power cables to PSU and loosely position PSU.  Confirm everything powers up!  You do NOT want to close it up and discover that that you have to break it down again.
  12. Dry mount the hard drive cage support pillar and position VGA card pillars.  These screw into position and are meant to minimize, but not prevent, VGA card movement. Leaving this loose so you can pull it in and out until you're happy with the depth and placement is much easier than trying to install in place.
  13. Secure everything into permanent positions.
After I finally had it rebuilt, my temps have been excellent.  I've been on this computer for about 5 hours, and current temps are: 30C CPU, 33C motherboard.  The AI Suite II software included with the Asus motherboard has been very useful for watching temps.  I can see where the CPU tuning capabilities would be great on a motherboard that actually let you overclock.  I've tried various fan speeds, and finally settled on "Intelligent" for the CPU, and "Standard" for the chassis.  Current fan speeds are 1644 rpm for the CPU, 987 rpm for the Chassis. 

I've also done a test hook up to my large screen TV (part of the reason for the handle!)  My spouse didn't realize I had strung a USB extension across the room so I can get the RF signal to the sofa for the keyboard, and pulled the computer off the table - a nice 3 foot drop to a solid concrete floor!  The only damage was to one of the plastic side panel clips.  No case dents, no part failures, and the side panel has enough clips to still seat securely - no damage!  And that's the ultimate goal with a case like this - something strong enough to protect your expensive components during the nevitable accident(s) as you drag it out to LAN parties, etc. 

That did, however, quickly encouraged me to go get a bluetooth keyboard.  The Microsoft Bluetooth Mobile 6000 ($32.99) has been liveable so far.  I also picked up the 3M Precise Optical Mousing Surface ($6.06) - it has the same stuff they use on 'stickies' so can easily be picked up and moved, but won't slide around.  Perfect for when I'm not at my desk, and works great with my Razer Orochi (awesome mouse, wired and bluetooth!)

Final, final total cash outlay:  $695.99.

Wifi signal is great.  The two antennas that connect to the motherboard have built-in wire extensions and magnets.  The wires are a bit of a pain, but helpful when you have it on the floor.  That said, I'm only getting 150MBps, and I really need at least 300MBps.  There's a great post I found on one of the hardware forums with step-by-step details on replacing it with a Centrino 6200 that I'm considering trying. 

Other than those issues, I'm very happy with this case and the final build.  I don't think I'd want to try and take this through airport security though - it reminds me of a dirty nuke suitcase from the spy movie of your choice.  Since there's no monitor to power on for Security and prove it's a computer, visions of the resulting strip search by "vigilant" TSA agents keep passing through my head!


Even though she grew up in the 60's

The downside of IT? Free family tech support duties. Thank god I'm not a doctor like my brother! To protect myself, I made my mother, who suddenly needed the ability to take photos and email them immediately a few years ago, buy an iPhone the week it came out. Say what you want about Apple, even my mother learned how to use it (mostly). I made her buy an iPhone 4 when Facetime came out so I could use it to help me understand what on earth she was doing with her computer during these ulcer-inducing support calls. (Works crappy, but Mom friendly!)

So for Christmas she got an iPad for the bigger screen size. She's been wanting a battery operated speaker dock for a while for her pottery studio, so when I saw one that supports docking the iPhone 4 and the iPad today on Woot, I suggested she get it. Thus ensued the FaceTime call on how to make an online purchase.

OK Mom, get your laptop.

It's in the car. Can I use my iPad?

(We've had several conversations about how sending personal information is more secure over wired internet than wireless. Visions of the dangers of her possibly accidentally being on the neighbor's wireless versus waiting the 10 minutes for her to get her laptop dance through my head.) OK Mom. Now, open your browser.

Is that Google or Yahoo?

No, Google and Yahoo are websites. You want the thing you use to surf the internet. On Apple it's called Safari.


No, Safari. It's a browser as in browse the internet.


Type www.woot.com in the address box. That's the one on the top left. Ok is it up?


Do you see woot.com?


Do you see the speakers?

No, it just has a list.

Ok, you searched Google instead of putting it in the address field. Try again. The one one the left. Wait, let's switch to FaceTime. Ok, I see you. No, that's your right. The one on the left with all the text instead of the light Google name.

Ok, I see the speakers.

Ok, let's scroll down the page to the description and make sure it's the one you want.

No, no, I'm sure it's fine.

Alright, but remember, I told you that you can't make returns to Woot unless it's broken, right?

Yes, I'm sure it'll be fine.

Ok, hit the big button that says "I want one". Now you want to create an account. What username do you normally use?

You mean my email address?

No, the name you use when you login to a website. It needs to be a short name that you can remember.

Like my first name?

No, something that no one else will use. How about "TheHappyPotter"?

How about "Pothead"?

(Desperately trying not laugh.) No Mom, that means something else.

What does it mean?

A person who smokes a lot of marijuana.

Well I've never smoked marijuana!

Yes, I know Mom, but that's what it means to non-potters.

20 minutes of explaining every click later:

Ok Mom hit the big button to purchase.

Why does it say "ridiculously large" buy button? I don't think it's too big.

She went to high school and college in the 60's, and she regularly attends art classes, and I have to explain the definition of pothead. How does this keep happening to me?

My Mom made her first online purchase. I will probably be disowned shortly when my Dad finds out I taught her a new way to shop. Oh well. I need a drink.

-- Post From My iPhone


The best advice

I'll give you the same advice I gave my best friend: stop what you are doing and go directly to the nearest bookshop. Buy the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. Make tea. Grab hanky. Curl up under a blanket in front of a bright window or warm fire, as the weather provides. Read and love book. It's like the joy of Miss Marple mixed with a lovely British black and white movie starring Deborah Kerr with a little Herriott thrown in for color. It's a delightful little bit of sunshine.

I feel inspired to write a letter . . .


Would it be weird...

if I started carrying a manila file and toy gun at all times just so someday I can have this conversation?


DRM Doesn't Prevent Piracy, Business Models Do

So Charlie Stross posted an interesting "PSA" on his blog about why the middle book of his six(!) book series "The Merchants War" isn't available in an e-book edition like the other five. He points to a three year gap between Tor's first and second attempts to enter the digital book market, caused by their parent company.

Quick aside - I own half of this series in the tree pulp version, and am a huge Stross fan. It's so great to read SF books where the science is IT, and I can actually follow it. Most of SF-dom involves theoretical physics and advanced math requirements, which I figured out 20 years ago I could happily live without, and I'll skim pages of that crap to stick with the story.

I have my own theory on how Tor's gap happened, and here's what I posted:

My guess is "internal policy reasons... of Tor's parent corporate multinational" was an objection to e-book prices that properly reflected production costs compared to paperbacks and hardbacks.

Amazon deserves huge credit for getting the delivery model perfected after years of industry failure (including Apple) so that e-books and e-readers finally took off. Tor.com has provided us with the highest quality and most active SF site for readers I've seen. But Baen has the only really customer-friendly business model for e-books from a "big" SF publishing house.

With Webscription, lower production costs = lower retail price = more sales, and everyone wins. Hate DRM? Once you've purchased an e-book from Baen, assuming the digital rights don't expire or aren't withdrawn (looking at you Tor), you can re-download in a new format compatible with your new device. I've moved from Palm to HP to Nokia to my current iPhone and Kindle with no issues.

E-books haven't been popular long enough for everyone to really notice one more benefit - there's no economic reason for e-books to fall out of publication. One of the posters a few weeks back referred to Heinlein's "Take Back Your Government", which is out of print publication. No "photocopy" needed, go get the e-book on Baen. It only sells 10 copies this month? Who cares - the cost to maintain that database entry on the website is negligible.

How do you compete with "free" in a digital world? Content quality with value-adds (such as an instant delivery method) at prices that compare favorably with the labor required to pirate. DRM in e-book publishing is simply a technological effort by a naturally conservative industry to artificially maintain historical retail price levels in a digital system with drastically reduced real production costs. (Say that 3 times fast!) As the cost, ease, and availability of the technological tools to "rip" your own e-books proliferate, the publishing industry had better wake up to the lessons of the music industry. DRM doesn't prevent piracy, business models do.


Apple design

An interesting article on Core77 made me think about Apple's unique design relationship with aftermarket vendors. http://www.core77.com/blog/object_culture/aftermarket_designers_seem_to_love_undoing_apples_minimalism_17419.asp

Here's what I wrote:

The design aesthetic for Apple devices intentionally invites customization and this is part of the reason for their salability. Ford was an autocrat who famously said purchasers could have their automobile "in any color as long as it was black", but he made his sales because of his price. Apple products never make their sales on price. They make them through miraculous UI and appealing to the senses of a wide range of users.

Everyone can learn to use the iPhone 4 (including my 60's technophobe mother) and everyone can morph it into the product that makes them comfortable. Minimalism? No problem. Super safe? Add an Otterbox. Pink? Worn on the neck? At the gym? On a plane? Everyone likes green eggs and ham once they try it and they don't go back to other products because they can turn it into the product they would have designed easily. It's brilliant and it makes money.

Now I have some issues with the censoriousness of the App Store but we've shown that we'll live with anything for the illusion of safety (what was your last airport experience like?) so it's not surprising that in the long run it doesn't matter to most of us. Bravo Apple! Love it or hate it, there's no one else like it.

-- Post From My iPhone (no less)