Monthly Archives: May 2015

What’s the deal with printers?

Posted by mitch on May 25, 2015
hardware, productivity

In 2001, Lexmark offered a PostScript USB printer for $399. No networking, but laser! For under $400!

I bought it. The printer couldn’t print straight (the paper tray was poorly designed), but it was laser! For under $400! On my desk! And it worked with lpd, which meant all of my computers could print (but not parallel to the edges of the page). Data Domain, in 2002 and 2003, actually had two of these same Lexmarks, slightly newer with some tweaks that seemed to fix the paper tray issue.

By about 2004 or 2005, Lexmark had a new personal laser printer, which I picked up for about $280. It could print straight and it was fast. Great printer.

In 2007, I moved to Boston and gave that printer away and bought a Canon all-in-one. It could scan to email or USB stick and create PDFs, photocopy, etc–it was fantastic and it was only $400 or so. Except that the fonts and text quality were quite bad, but other than that…

In 2009, I was preparing for and stressing over a set of presentations with millions of dollars on the line. I was worried about printing slides and bought a color Lexmark laser printer, I think for about $500. I printed my slides (50 pages or so) and didn’t use the printer for about 13 months. When I went to use it again, it had some internal error that apparently meant the printer was now a large boat anchor. I had kept the Canon and just kept using it.

In 2012, I had a job interview. I took my résumé printed on that Canon printer with me. I was so embarrassed at the text quality, I didn’t hand it to the interviewer. On my way home, I bought a beefy Brother color laser printer and eventually added the second paper tray and upgraded the RAM to 384 MB. The print quality for graphics was good (not great), and for text it was awesome. The Brother system cost me about $650.

The only issue with the Brother was that it often could take 2-5 minutes to warm up before printing. So if I was on the phone and wanted to print something and write down notes, the call could be well on its way by the time I got my document out of the printer. The other issue was that the Brother was a printer only and the Canon was getting long in the tooth–5 years of poor quality copies, no support for TLS-protected emails made it difficult to use for scanning–it was time to upgrade.

So I bought a monster HP color laser all-in-one with the huge extra paper tray and rolling stand. It cost about $1500 all told. When I printed a color document and compared it to the Brother, I was blown away–the HP graphics are just awesome. It can print 30 pages before the Brother wakes up to start printing 1. (No kidding!) It works with the Mac Image Capture app for both the flatbed scanner and the document feeder.

But… the HP doesn’t reliably wake from sleep over the LAN. It has issues with Chome and PDFs from time to time. The paper tray design is the opposite of what I want–it can hold 250 8.5×11 sheets and 500 8.5×14. I want 250 8.5×14 and 500 8.5×11. Seriously HP, get it together. Its 256 MB of RAM isn’t upgradeable (unreal, I couldn’t believe that). I’ve ended up stringing a USB cable across the office temporarily, since the networking doesn’t work (essentially).

During this time, due to the cost of the HP color toner, I bought a $150 Brother laser for my family to use. It’s black and white, takes up minimal space, it’s fast as heck, uses little electricity, and the text quality is better than the Canon–it’s a great little printer! I kind of want one for my office! But of course, no color, copier, or alternative paper trays.

Let’s review the issues for a device that is supposed to print:

  1. Doesn’t print straight [Lexmark #1]
  2. Poor text quality from a b&w printer [Canon]
  3. Total cost of ownership was $10/page, then required to throw away 60 lb of metal and plastic [Lexmark #2]
  4. 2-5 minutes to warm up! [Brother #1]
  5. Unreliable networking on a workgroup printer, stupid paper tray design, etc. [HP]

Is this so hard? I’ve bought 7 laser printers in the last 15 years and only 2 of them seemed to be good…and they were at the bottom of the market. It makes no sense and it’s frustrating.

My 3 Year Bookcase Project

Posted by mitch on May 20, 2015
home, productivity

Back in 2011 over the Thanksgiving break, I was playing with learning how to do things in SketchUp and drew a 3d model of a bookcase idea I had for my office. My office is in the “1/2 story” (the third floor) of my house, which means low ceilings. In my 2008 remodel, I gutted it, rewired it, vaulted the ceiling, and so on.

About 16 months later in early 2013, I drew this picture and sent it to my architect, Carl Oldenburg:


I have a lot of heavy books and wanted short spans to avoid bowing. Carl whipped up this awesome SketchUp rendering:

Haile Bookcase 2013-03-09a

Who could say no to building that? Inspired by Carl’s skills, I spent some time practicing and playing with ideas. I really wanted to know what this was going to be like:



After various distractions, we had the design finalized by December 2013:

Screenshot 2015-05-20 23.44.05

In early 2014, I got in touch with Aaron Honore, who is the most serious, hardcore, and awesome cabinetry carpenter I’ve known (and I’ve known more than one). Aaron was booked for 6 months, but I was willing to wait.

Construction finally happened in September 2014. I worked out of my workshop during this time:


In 2008, before moving into the house, many rooms were gutted, the house was rewired, etc–this is what the front wall of office looked like about 4 months after moving in:


The below picture is what it looked like by the time Aaron was done with it. I think the install took about 2 weeks, I don’t really remember–certainly Aaron took his time and made it perfect:


For such a small project, it was still quite an outlay of time and a bit of stress. But having had the bookcase now for 8 months, I have no regrets. I certainly took my time and thought it through in great detail. There’s a built-in stereo section that connects an amp to the old speaker wire drops I put in during the 2008 remodel, LED lights under the eaves and the wall lights in the ‘A’ are wonderful.

My house is small. I highly recommend built-ins for small living. You can use every bit of space, and there’s no gap between the storage and the wall, which in some cases, saved me 2-3″. By customizing the depth of built-ins to narrower-than-usual in some cases (my living room has a 10″ deep bookcase that is 14 ft long), I’ve saved an effective 5″ of space in a room. If a room is 12 ft across, that’s significant.

What’s the point of this post? Beats me. “Take your time and do it right,” perhaps.



Update: I realized after posting this that I didn’t mention some of the non-obvious features of the bookcase. Sure, you can tell from the photos there are lights and doors. For anyone thinking about doing this, here’s a few things I did that I really like:

1. The deep shelves under the eaves have glass shelf insets to let in light to the back of the lower shelf. I’ve doubled up books on the bottom shelf, and this lets me see what’s back there if my eyes are aligned with the roof angle. The light spilling out above the books below makes the space feel more open that it would if it was dark:



2. The speaker posts, Ethernet ports, and power are in the back of the lower shelves where I thought I might want audio equipment. I also ran a 50 ft TOSlink in the bookcase from one end to the other, just in case I ever wanted it. One thing I did not consider was how difficult it would be to do the wiring because the shelf is fixed and only 10″ high. Having the removable glass panels turned out to be quite handy for that.



3. The light switch for the eave LEDs and the ‘A’ lights is hidden behind one of the shaker panels. It’s a double switch in a 1-gang box.


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Your Data Center Will Be Smaller Than Your Childhood Bedroom

Posted by mitch on May 19, 2015
business, hardware, software

I saw a tweet from Chris Mellor referencing a Gartner conclusion that mid-market IT will go to the cloud:

Today, Storage Newsletter‘s headline quotes an IDC report that personal and low-end storage sales (less than 12 bays) have declined 6.4% y/y. Some dimensions of the business sank 20% y/y.

What happened in the last year? Do people create less data than they did a year ago? Isn’t data storage growing tremendously?

What is changing is where people create and keep their data. As applications move to the cloud, the data goes with it. From Salesforce to consumer photos, from corporate email to songs, all of this stuff is in someone else’s data center.

I have about 100 TB of disks in my house across six fast hardware RAIDs, but all of my critical working set lives in the cloud. The cloud pricing for large amounts of data (e.g., 1 TB) is so cheap that it’s free or bundled (Office 365, Flickr). Dropbox stands alone as an outlier to a priced service and it’s not that expensive–certainly I cannot buy a 1 TB drive and operate it for 1 year at the price point that Dropbox offers.

Generally, IT vendors fail to deliver on simplicity; it’s not in their vocabulary. I’ve been in those meetings–hundreds of them, actually–where engineers want to offer every option for the customer and for some reason (lack of vision?) the product manager lets it happen. The problem with these meetings is that everyone in them usually forgets that while the product is the most important thing in the lives of the folks creating the products, the customers have other things on their minds.

So we end up with these overly complex IT products that are impossible to use. Quick, how do you set up Postgres database backups with Tivoli? I have no idea but I know it will take a few hours to figure it out (if I am lucky). The brilliance of Amazon’s cloud user interface is that (1) the details are hidden and (2) the user is presented with just the critical options. Do you want to back up this database? Sure! Great, when? Hey, you know, I don’t really care. Just keep the backups for 30 days.


One of the most powerful things about AWS is that significant infrastructure is under a single pane of glass. This has been the Holy Grail of IT but never realized. OpenView, System Center, vCenter, TSM–everyone wants to do it, but few organizations pull it off, likely due to a mix of political, technical, and economical reasons.

The best part of Gmail going down is that it’s not my problem to bring it back online. Remember when you worked at a place that ran Exchange and the guy in charge of Exchange was always on edge? The only reason that guy is on edge now is that he is waiting for a call to see if he got the job at a place that has switched to Gmail.

The data center of the future for most mid-market companies is a single rack consisting of network connectivity, security devices, and WAN acceleration devices. No servers or standalone storage–with applications in the cloud, the only thing needed locally is data caching to augment the WAN overhead and maybe provide short-circuit data movement among local peers. This single rack will fit into a closet.

IT will still exist; these cloud applications will still need support, maintenance, and integration–and the network issues will be as challenging as ever.

But anyone who is building IT products for on-site installation is facing a significant headwind if you’re not enabling the cloud.