Windows 8.1

I’ve recently installed Windows 8.1 on a fast Intel 4th generation motherboard. And already I’m being bombarded with huge amounts of “updates” including only recommended ones. One problem with it is that after downloading huge amounts of data, the updates often won’t install and are listed as “failed”.

But if you think that stops Windows 8.1 Update from working you’d be wrong.

After the failure of some updates, it checks again and relists the failed updates as available for download again.

That’s a hefty 500 or 600 MB download and I’m not prepared to do it all over again just to see it fail.

The whole procedure makes it look as if the OS [Operating System] wasn’t complete when they released it and I bought a copy.

I mean, if it needs so many UPDATES, why can’t they be put into a Service Pack type of thing and made available as a download or something you can get a hard copy of?

It would save time and effort, and at least give the impression that the OS is a final product, which at present it don’t feel like!

It feels as if it’s a partial release of an incomplete system.

And definitely not worth the money I paid for it.

Plus, there’s the problem of half of my programs no longer being able to work in the new environment despite attempts to use the compatibility trouble-shooter.

Windows 8.1 even has something that blocks programs which it says “come from other computers.”

It’s not any faster than Windows 8, which I admit was slightly faster than Windows 7, and it’s not really any more functional.

Windows 7 was faster with USB 3 mass storage devices, and when transferring large files, kept up a consistent speed, whereas Win 8 and Win 8.1 are about 20% slower and the speed tends to vary by about 25%. It peeks and then slows down, producing an average speed that’s about 20% slower than what you get with Windows 7. And that’s saying something because quite often a large file transfer starts off at breakneck speeds of more than 200 MBs/sec, and then quickly settles down to around 130 MBs/sec; whereas with Win 8 and 8.1 it rarely begins that fast, and settles down not at all — it reaches speeds of between 120 MBs and 110, and the lowest speed can get down to 40 or 50 MBs/sec, averaging to about 80 MBs/sec.

It’s the USB 3 drivers and how they’re set up that makes all the difference.

USB 3 should get up to speeds of at least 150 MBs/sec regularly, but it rarely does.

What I’m most probably going to do is go back to Windows 7 as the main operating system for my PC, because it works better with USB 3 mass storage devices such as Seagate and WD drives of 1 or 2 T in size; and also because my colour laser printer software isn’t compatible with 8.1. I don’t really know how, but I managed to get it to work on Win 8, but it won’t install on 8.1 and neither will the drivers even though they are listed as updates for Win 8.1.

Medical Marijuana

I’ve recently been presented with a “medical emergency” in my family – my brother has been diagnosed as having Lung Cancer Stage IV. That means the cancer has spread beyond the lung and cannot really be cured. It can, however, be treated to prolong life, with Chemotherapy.

He’s only been aware of his condition for less than a week, and has been in hospital most of that time. He was symptom free actually although he had some issues that suggested he had Diabetes Type II. So, he went in to have some tests done, and they confirmed Diabetes, but also picked up on the Cancer, and he was immediately rushed by ambulance to Flinders Hospital, where he’s been ever since. They are treating him for the Diabetes with tablets and injections, and are just at the beginning stage of planning treatment for the Cancer. Surgery won’t get rid of it, Radiation won’t get rid of it, as it’s progressed too far, which means that Chemo might shrink it and thus prolong his life expectancy.

Right now he has been told he will live only for a couple more months without treatment, and with it, he can expect to survive at least 6 months. For Lung Cancer the survival rates aren’t very high; within 2 years just over 50% of all patients have died, and by 4 years almost 80% have passed away. That’s for all types and stages of Lung Cancer, not only the very advanced Stage III and IV.

It just means it’s a very hard to control disease without much hope for long term survival. But he’s lucky he lives in South Australia because the Flinders Medical Centre, which was built in the early 70s, has a reputation as one of the best Cancer treatment centres in the world.

He had another problem during this period, namely he was being sued locally by a psychic for Libel. He was too preoccupied to attend the court hearings, though, and a judgement was handed down by judge alone, ordering him to pay over $26,000 compensation to the Psychic. The Libel had been published on his web-site and had been read by less than 20 people, even though the web site had a following of over 200,000. The Psychic had copied the web site which identified him, and had presented it to the court as evidence. Apparently, my brother had disparaged the Psychic, calling him an “ambulance chaser” who preyed upon the sick and vulnerable. The Psychic had a lawyer act for him, while my brother didn’t, which is why the judgment went against him. He simply didn’t put up any counter arguments to the Libel charge. Obviously, though, he won’t be paying it, because apart from the fact he simply can’t afford to, there’s also the newly discovered fact, that he probably won’t be around long enough for any further legal actions to be taken against him. In the meantime he’s been given 21 days to pay the $26,000 “fine” or face more legal actions.

Yesterday, when I visited him in hospital, he was watching some U-tube videos on the console that every bed has next to it. These consoles are very up to date and have TV, pay TV, and broadband access, for a small fee. You can only imagine the bandwidth required to service a hospital that size! It has more than 1,000 beds.

Anyway, the video was in a category named: Medical Marijuana. There were over 500 videos in the category, and you needed to subscribe in order to view complete videos, which of course, my brother hadn’t done. So, the video he was watching ended abruptly after an hour and no matter what he tried, it just wouldn’t go any further without him joining a subscription. But the video was interesting and contained information I’d seen before on the SBS TV network (Special Broadcast Services). They had presented a couple shows on the Medical Marijuana issue sweeping America, which focused on using the stuff to treat Cancer. The U-tube video took a similar approach.

It said that there is a system within the body that appears to be specifically designed by nature to interact with the various substances found in Marijuana, in a way that’s beneficial to the individual. It calms him, reduces his blood pressure, and where there is Cancer, tends to fight against it to the death. The video had some patients who claimed they had been cured of various types of Cancer simply by using Marijuana; there were skin cancer subjects, lung cancer and brain cancer subjects, who stated that they used up to 10 marijuana cigarettes a day to relieve pain, and as it turned out, the Marijuana seemed to also kill off the Cancer cells. One subject said he’d lived for more than 12 years after being diagnosed with Skin cancer, and he attributed that to his daily use of Marijuana. Another subject described how he was enrolled in a Federal US government program, that dispensed Marijuana cigarettes to medical patients as a trial. The government arranged to grow the marijuana, and turn it into cigarettes, and would supply this man with over 500 such “joints” every one or two months, and they had been doing it for many years. He estimated they had already given him, for free, more than 100,000 such cigarettes. He said he had survived Cancer for so long as a direct result of taking Marijuana daily in 10 separate doses.

In the same video, they did present a discussion about the negative “side effects” of Marijuana, that included the “high” that people use the stuff to achieve in the first place. But they listed another “side effect” as the onslaught of Psychotic episodes that can bring about a state of Schizophrenia. Remember, this was a video produced by health care professionals to support a case for further research into the medical use of Marijuana!

They also described the benefits of it, to persons getting Cancer treatments, who most probably could not be cured. These included a “better appetite” and reduction of pain.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to see how many states in America have gone the “legalise” route and made Marijuana more easily obtained. There are places where recreational use has also been decriminalised!

A similar movement has existed in Australia since the early 70s, but they have not had much success in legalising the drug thus far because the negative reports about Mental Health issues have been high lighted while the positive benefits, such as possible use in Cancer treatment, have been almost completely ignored. Yet, there are outspoken people in Australia who have been filmed talking about their use of Marijuana when they had serious health issues, such as Cancer. Again, I’ve seen such films on the SBS TV channel.

I’ve supported the legalisation of the use of Marijuana since the early 70s, both for recreational purposes as well as for medicinal reasons. I don’t see any conflict between the two, and believe the negative “side effects” reportage is exaggerated and can be overcome by the right attitude when one uses Marijuana. Quite often, in recreational use settings, the experience the user wants, is exactly what the medicos call the “negative side effects.”

It’s said the main reason against medicalization of Marijuana is that because it’s a natural plant they’re talking about, it can’t be patented, which means drug companies can’t exploit it as badly as they do stuff they hold patents on. After all, it would have to be a drug company which did the research and came up with a way to use it as a medicine; so far their approach has been the “usual” : to think in terms of isolating some part of the Marijuana plant and calling it the “active ingredient” while rejecting the other 399 parts. Those who support medicalization believe, overall, that you must use the whole plant to get the positive result. Nature, they say, developed the plant along with our internal system which seems perfectly designed to dovetail with Marijuana use in a very positive life supporting way. The one problem is the way you have to ingest it: through smoking.

Everyone knows that inhaling smoke into your body is going to have its risks. With tobacco it involves more than 40,000 different substances the smoke contains, and with Marijuana it’s something like 400 different compounds the smoke contains. There’s more “tar” in Marijuana smoke than in Tobacco smoke. That seems to be a fact well supported by scientific evidence. And it means that smoking Marijuana is more harmful than smoking Tobacco, and again, everyone knows that smoking Tobacco is a leading cause of Cancer (both of Lung Cancer and various other Cancers).

That’s one dilemma! You might gain positive benefits from using Marijuana, but at the same time you get negative effects as well — beyond the so-called mental ones.

In some ways this whole contradiction brings us to the questions about “What is the meaning of Life?”

Since everyone is going to die, and since everyone has come into this world through birth, there doesn’t seem to be any actual purpose as to why we are hear. If you don’t accept there is a Supreme Being, God, you also don’t need to believe in purpose or some Divine Plan, which means life doesn’t hold any significance apart from what it means to all things that live. We’re just a part of Grand nature, which “designed” us to live in harmony with all aspects of itself; but that came about through trial and error rather than through the intervention of a Higher Being who said, Let there be Light and it was so.

No, there is no such Being and no such method for creating things and processes in this world, and there never has been. It’s a very naive, or immature, belief system that talks about a God, you see.

Our philosophy has come a long way since those times and we have come to accept, perhaps reluctantly, the fact that we are a random product of natural forces and not a special creation of some Majestic God.

From that perspective, the use of a natural plant like Marijuana, to gain pleasure and health is not very fanciful; it’s been done the same way in India and China for centuries and both cultures are such that they don’t support the likes of the Biblical singular Deity.

Marijuana Plant

Here you see a small marijuana plant about to blossom, circa 2012.

Record Breaking Heat

It’s been an extremely unusual Summer, the last couple of weeks, with temperatures reaching record breaking levels which is really saying something considering this is Australia! I’ve been here for more than 50 years now, and found it hard to remember a time similar to these last few weeks. There have been spells of hot weather when the temperature has hovered around the 100 F mark for over 9 days, but what we had recently was a spell that saw the temperature hover around the 42 C mark for more than a week. It was almost the hottest day on record (150 years) when it got to 44 C, which may I remind you is above 110 F!

Usually I handle the weather quite well, but this month I’ve been reacting to it rather badly. Been drinking lots of Coke, because it’s cold. Eating lots of frozen deserts, because they’re cold. And as a result, put on 6 Kg. That means I’m now about 17 Kg overweight.

During the extremely warm week I suddenly decided to go and buy the parts to build a state of the art Intel i7 “unclocked” computer. I’d been thinking of building one for a few months, but the prices tended to fluctuate a lot, in particular for the CPU. One week you could get an i7 for $345, and the next, the same CPU was priced at $380. I checked out various suppliers and found that the one I had, turned out to be very good; even EBay was more expensive. But I checked out various CPU combinations, from i7 & i5 & i3, through to AMD Ten Core processors you could overclock up to speeds like 5 Ghz. The i7 was relatively slow compared to that @ a mere 3.51 Ghz.

But it was a very warm day and I hadn’t been sleeping well for at least 8 days, and late one afternoon I just decided I’d go into town, a 2 minute drive, to get all the parts I’d need to build a new system. I thought it’d cost me about $750 for stuff I’d make up into a PC that you can buy commercially for $1850 minimum.

Everything went well, except the prices had increased for the CPU, up to $395, while the motherboard I wanted was unavailable with the best substitute going for $150, an Asus. The case was also a slight problem. The one I wanted wasn’t available and the salesman talked me into getting a much cheaper one, at $80. Anyway, I took all the parts home and started assembling them. The most time consuming part was unpacking things; the case in particular, was tightly packed in a large cardboard box with lots of foam padding, which took a good ten minutes to undo. Then it was these huge plastic bags, and smaller bags with screws and cables. The motherboard came in a large card board box inside an anti static plastic bag. It was the first thing to go into the case and after 5 minutes it had its power connected and a 2T hard drive and DVD r/w. I hadn’t bought any memory because I already had 8 Gigs of DDR3 ram on hand, inside my current machine. I had upgraded it about 15 months previously when I switched to Windows 8. It worked better with more memory, but it was only a dual core CPU going at 2.2 Ghz, whereas I’d bought a 4 core i7 going at 3.51 Ghz, with virtualisation capacity that made it act like it had 8 cores. Within 30 minutes the whole thing was ready to install an operating system. That’s when things got tricky.

Without an operating system installed, the motherboard wouldn’t work with more than 4 Gigs of memory. The board had several built in monitoring functions that checked the CPU core temperature, voltage and frequency, the memory, the hard disk and the booting procedure. When it found an issue, it let out a high pitched screech; the first couple times I powered up, there were lots of those noises. The CPU presented an issue, as did the memory and obviously, the booting was a definite problem because there was no boot drive and nothing to boot into, as there was no operating system installed. But I had to remove 2 sticks of DDR3 and then the issue with the CPU was temperature. For some reason it went straight to 72 C, which triggered a shut down of the entire system to prevent burn out. The frequency was OK, variable from 600 MHz to 4.1 Ghz depending upon load.

It took me more than 30 minutes of exploration and reading the operating manual, to get the board to start without any warning noises; I’d set it up to boot from the DVD drive and once that got started, I was able to install Windows 8 in less than 30 minutes. But again, that presented a problem and after one start up it refused to work again, so I had to reinstall the operating system again. This time it took slightly longer because it wanted to preserve the settings I’d created on that singular boot up experience.

What I anticipated doing once the PC was up and running, was use a system image I’d created a year earlier, to restore everything to how the computer was back then when it seemed to be working rather well. However, 2 hours after building the computer, I found that the new installation of Windows 8, didn’t recognise any of the Windows Images I had. That meant that 3 different images ranging in size from 144 to 350 Gigs, were useless. I tried everything, but the system simply wouldn’t recognise the system images, that is, until I tried to create a new system image backup, and then the program told me there were 2 earlier backups and did I wish to delete them? I said, no and created a 200 Gig image backup, which took about 45 minutes on a USB 3 external hard drive. Once complete, I tested to see if the system recognised the image and to my surprise, it now recognised 2 other images, but not the one I created under Windows 7. One reason I wanted a Win 7 operating system is its inbuilt DVDmaker software; I’ve tried several DVD authoring programs, including DVD Styler, Ulead Video Studio, DVD Flick, Magix Movie Editor, Cyberlink Powerdirector, TMPEG Authoring Works, and I found that the Windows 7 program worked effectively and simply to create an almost professional looking DVD. It took longer to encode everything, I must admit, but the finished product looked good. Whereas, with the other software, the end result was only as good as your imagination and the amount of time you took to organise your project; some were very fast with encoding, such as DVD-styler, and others were very slow, such as Ulead and Magix Movie Editor, but once completed, it was hard to see any difference between any of the DVDs. Some had variable bit-rate, or were setup to create NTSC rather than PAL, discs. Whatever, it just seemed like a good thing that the free Windows DVD maker software worked as good as it did.

At any rate, inside the new system, Windows 8 failed  to  recognise the Win 7 image backup which was more than 200 Gigs in size. It had all the programs I’d been using, and most had been working quite well; there had been one issue with the ($620 when new) Win 7 computer though, which was that it tended to crash a lot of the time, even after the memory was upgraded. Windows system reports show that on average it crashed at least once a day. Sometimes this wasn’t noticeable, as what happened was a program shut down and restarted, but mostly, the system would either freeze in the middle of a demanding task, or would just switch itself off and I’d lose everything I’d been working on. In particular, that tended to happen when I was editing video or making a DVD file. At any rate, that was one of the reasons why I’d been thinking of building a better computer system.

It took about 6 hours to get the new system running Win 8, without overheating the CPU; the outside temperature even at night, didn’t drop below 34, so when the CPU said it was on 62 C, I realized that the weather was affecting it too. I had tried to set the motherboard to default values, but after reading the manual, thought I’d better set everything to very basic values designed to save power, and therefore generate less heat. My thinking worked out and the CPU temp dropped down to 48, which meant the automatic trigger no longer figured. I arranged for the 2 fans to work at 80% whenever the temp got above 45 C, and by this time, I had the speed of the CPU down to 800 MHz most of the time. The speed would increase dramatically whenever I used the computer to do something intense, but the temperature stayed reasonably stable. There was still a minor problem with overall system stability, though. I had used 3 sticks of one type of DDR3 –2Gig each- and one stick of 4Gig DDR3 which turned out to be slightly slower. This worked fine until I tried to put the computer to sleep, or tried to copy very large files to the external USB3 hard drive. I’d get a blue screen saying there was a problem with memory management and then the system would turn itself off. I hunted the web for solutions only to find there were quite a few people experiencing similar issues, and many had reported these to official Microsoft forums. I read through about 20 such reports without getting a solution, beyond the idea there was some device not functioning properly. Or there was a driver that wasn’t right for Win 8. Even so, it didn’t occur to me it was an actual memory module problem, but a day later, after 3 crashes, I tried taking out the 4Gig stick, and replaced it with another 2Gig stick which was identical to the other 3. Since then, the computer hasn’t crashed even once! And that was over a month ago. I think, however, that I’ll have to one day upgrade to 4 sticks of 4Gig DDR3, giving me 16Gigs of memory. That’s because I’ve monitored memory use a lot and seen how more than 60% gets used as a cache, and when you’ve only got 8Gigs that means around 5Gigs is used like that; if you had 16Gigs, around 11 or 12Gigs would be used as a cache and things would work more smoothly. But don’t get me wrong! Even with only 8Gigs, the i7 powers through video encoding at a speed that dazzles. It wasn’t uncommon in Win 7 to let the PC spend 5 or 6 hours encoding a video, but this new set up can do such work in less than 35 minutes. It’s amazing really how fast it gets through encoding tasks. It can encode and generate a complete 2 hour DVD movie in less than 10 minutes in DVD-Styler. In Ulead Video studio, it can encode a 2 hour high definition movie file, in less than 25 minutes. Previously, it would take 2 or 3 hours to do it!

It’s not faster when burning a DVD or CD, though; or when reading a CD or DVD. And the video card I use isn’t fast enough to handle high definition movies at all. They stutter a lot. I’m not using the motherboard’s inbuilt graphics capabilities….I’ve put in a NVidia graphics card designed for the mid-range gamer which cost around $130. To get full use of the CPU’s capabilities as well as the motherboard’s, I’d have to buy and install a high-end card that could cost anything up to $600. It wouldn’t really help with video encoding, but with High Definition playback, it’d make things work as good as HD Digital TV.

The weather, though, is playing more tricks on everyone! The heat spell where everything was over 40 for 7 days, is about to return, and it’s going to be over 33 for at least 7 days, with 3 of them being over 40 again. The computer has now been set-up to work in High Performance Mode, suited to gaming, where you can over-clock the CPU and the memory, if you have capable devices. I thought it wouldn’t work, with the heat it generates and all, but I was wrong. Despite the external temperatures, the CPU hasn’t gotten over 50 C, even though it’s been set-up to reach speeds of 4.4 Ghz, almost 1 Ghz higher than it’s base frequency; and if I had capable memory sticks, I’d be able to get them to work at twice their normal speed. It’s not that such memory is more expensive, it’s just that it’s rare and hard to get; you need DDR3 running at 2400 to 2800 MHz to get the most out of the motherboard. DDR3 is quite expensive anyway, but getting 8Gigs or a couple 4Gig sticks is going to cost me well over $100, and I’m saving up to get a new flat screen monitor cheap at $159.

I’d recommend it to anyone, to get a 4th generation Intel CPU, i5 or i7, running as fast as it will go, on a good motherboard with adequate memory. You’ll be amazed at how it just powers through chores that used to take ages.