Archive for February, 2006

Sleeping on it… making big decisions.

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

I’ve always used the “sleep on it” method for big decisions, turns out there has been some research to show it really has benefits. The Canadian National Post had this article on it:

Leave big decisions to your unconscious
study: Brain’s hidden talents: Dutch research focuses on consumer choices
Margaret Munro
CanWest News Service
Deciding whether to slap down $40,000 on a new car or $1-million for a house should be left to your unconscious, according to new research that suggests the best way to make tough decisions is to forget about them.Collect the relevant information, it says, then let the unconscious churn through the options. In the end, it makes for better decisions.

“Contrary to conventional wisdom, it is not always advantageous to engage in thorough conscious deliberation before choosing,” says psychologist Dr. Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues at the University of Amsterdam, who make a case in the journal Science today for listening to gut feelings and intuition.

Their work on “unconscious thought theory” taps into the brain’s hidden — and many psychologists say unappreciated — ability to juggle and weigh complicated situations and options.

“In short, consciousness should be used to gather information, the unconscious to work on it,” Dr. Dijksterhuis says.

A similar approach was proposed in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, which has made the author a popular figure on the corporate lecture circuit.

The new study focuses on consumer choices, but Dr. Dijksterhuis and other psychologists say politicians, managers and negotiators would also be well advised to delegate tricky decisions to the unconscious.

“This process of just ‘sleeping on it’ and ‘letting it sit’ is not just procrastination but is a valuable, productive technique that is drawing on cognitive processes that seem to really exist,” says psychologist Dr. Jonathan Schooler of the University of British Columbia, who has done extensive research in the field.

“At a minimum, people should include this in their tool kit of decision-making.”

The Dutch studies suggest simple choices like deciding on shampoo, towels or oven mitts can be safely left to the conscious mind. But more complex decisions are best left to the unconscious.

In one of the experiments, university students were presented with four hypothetical cars, and a list of 12 attributes for each of them. Half the students were then immediately given word puzzles to keep their conscious minds busy. The other half was asked to mull over the pros and cons for the different cars, one of which had far more pluses than the others.

After four minutes the students were asked to pick the best car. More than half the students who had been preoccupied with puzzles made the best choice. But only 25% of the students who actively considered the choices picked the right car.

The researchers say people can only consciously consider and weigh a limited amount of information. The unconscious mind, they say, can integrate wider swaths of information, which leads to better and more satisfying decisions.

All of which indicates people shouldn’t agonize over and fixate on choices. The better approach, say the psychologists, is to gather relevant information and then take a break. The break does not necessarily have to be long, judging by the car experiments, which gave the students just a four-minute distraction.

“The important recommendation of this work is that there can be real utility to just letting it percolate and then seeing what comes to mind,” Dr. Schooler says.

If a decision doesn’t come, he says the conscious mind probably needs to gather more information for the unconscious to sift through.

© National Post 2006

Disk Full? Find out who is hogging the space!

Thursday, February 23rd, 2006

Disk Detective

Seems like as disks get bigger and bigger, its harder to find what is taking up so much space. As you can see, the drive above is getting pretty full. I found a nice app called Disk Detective . It graphs disk usage by directory and allows drill down. Best of all, its Freeware!

Being S.M.A.R.T , HDD error management.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2006

Is my Seagate Doomed?

This week I had an old IBM 30GB Deskstar fail. After over five years of service (original purchase date was August 14, 2000), one would expect such a failure, however this one caught me by surprise. Almost all of my drive failures have been well expected due to various noises. Usually clicking or bearing noise. This one was great until the last minute. It only progressively got louder, but not to the point of being out of line. In trying to fix the drive I happened upon some interesting utilities that could have prevented this failure.

The first is Passmark’s Diskcheckup. A nice utility that is free for personal use. For years I had seen the S.M.A.R.T feature in the BIOS of most of the PC’s I own. I never thought to really dig up what it was for. S.M.A.R.T. stands for Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology. It enables a PC to alert a user of potential problems that may lead to failure. While Diskcheckup is a nice utility for spot checking, it fails to address the real issue of monitoring. Through some more poking around I was able to find a nice package call Smartmontools on Sourceforge.

Smartmontools has two parts, a daemon that monitors your drives and a control program. There are two reasons I like Smartmontools, one the price, its free! Two, it works on just about any platform, windows, linux, osx, and a few others I don’t use. Setup is as straight forward as can be for a standard linux/Unix app. It compiled without hassle on my old Redhat 7.2 box. I also put it on my Dell/XP box, however I have not tinkered with setup a conf file to email me when there is a problem, this will be a todo for later as I have doubts about it being able to email our without Cygwin installed.
While the Deskstar is toast, its message will not be forgotten. I have been procrastinating upgrading my again linux box as I’m very happy with its current configuration (i.e. everything I need works) and I don’t have time to re-setup everything. The current drive in Harley (the linux box) is a Seagate ST380021A. Using smartctl -a /dev/hda we get this info:

/usr/local/sbin/smartctl -a /dev/hda
smartctl version 5.33 [i686-redhat-linux-gnu] Copyright (C) 2002-4 Bruce Allen
Home page is

Device Model: ST380021A
Serial Number: 3HV0EPJB
Firmware Version: 3.10
User Capacity: 80,026,361,856 bytes
Device is: In smartctl database [for details use: -P show]
ATA Version is: 5
ATA Standard is: Exact ATA specification draft version not indicated
Local Time is: Tue Feb 21 16:32:59 2006 EST
SMART support is: Available – device has SMART capability.
SMART support is: Enabled

SMART overall-health self-assessment test result: PASSED

General SMART Values:
Offline data collection status: (0x82) Offline data collection activity
was completed without error.
Auto Offline Data Collection: Enabled.
Self-test execution status: ( 0) The previous self-test routine completed
without error or no self-test has ever
been run.
Total time to complete Offline
data collection: ( 422) seconds.
Offline data collection
capabilities: (0x1b) SMART execute Offline immediate.
Auto Offline data collection on/off support.
Suspend Offline collection upon new
Offline surface scan supported.
Self-test supported.
No Conveyance Self-test supported.
No Selective Self-test supported.
SMART capabilities: (0x0003) Saves SMART data before entering
power-saving mode.
Supports SMART auto save timer.
Error logging capability: (0x01) Error logging supported.
No General Purpose Logging support.
Short self-test routine
recommended polling time: ( 1) minutes.
Extended self-test routine
recommended polling time: ( 57) minutes.

SMART Attributes Data Structure revision number: 10
Vendor Specific SMART Attributes with Thresholds:
1 Raw_Read_Error_Rate 0x000f 074 063 034 Pre-fail Always – 129773489
3 Spin_Up_Time 0x0003 075 070 000 Pre-fail Always – 0
4 Start_Stop_Count 0x0032 100 100 020 Old_age Always – 3
5 Reallocated_Sector_Ct 0x0033 100 100 036 Pre-fail Always – 0
7 Seek_Error_Rate 0x000f 084 060 030 Pre-fail Always – 297452400
9 Power_On_Hours 0x0032 066 066 000 Old_age Always – 30054
10 Spin_Retry_Count 0x0013 100 100 097 Pre-fail Always – 0
12 Power_Cycle_Count 0x0032 100 100 020 Old_age Always – 109
194 Temperature_Celsius 0x0022 039 049 000 Old_age Always – 39
195 Hardware_ECC_Recovered 0x001a 074 063 000 Old_age Always – 129773489
197 Current_Pending_Sector 0x0012 100 100 000 Old_age Always – 0
198 Offline_Uncorrectable 0x0010 100 100 000 Old_age Offline – 0
199 UDMA_CRC_Error_Count 0x003e 200 200 000 Old_age Always – 0
200 Multi_Zone_Error_Rate 0x0000 100 253 000 Old_age Offline – 0
202 TA_Increase_Count 0x0032 100 253 000 Old_age Always – 0

SMART Error Log Version: 1
No Errors Logged

SMART Self-test log structure revision number 1
Num Test_Description Status Remaining LifeTime(hours) LBA_of_first_error
# 1 Extended offline Completed without error 00% 30054

The parameter of concern is Power_On_Hours :

9 Power_On_Hours 0x0032 066 066 000 Old_age Always – 30054

Doing some simple math, 30054/24/365=3.43… So 3.4 years of use. Looking at the most popular figure published MTBF by Seagate for the ST380021A we have 600,000 hours or 68.4 years! . However MTBF is very misleading. Service life is a much better spec, and although Seagate does not publish a Service Life spec, most consumer drives are around five years. So with 1.6 years before impeding doom, its time to start getting serious about finding a replacement and watching this one before its too late. I have a fairly good backup scheme, ok its not great, but I won’t lose everything. I am just looking to avoid downtime.

Another nice looking utility for windows is ActiveSmart . However at $24.95, its a bit more than Smartmontools, but setup is much easier on a windows box and has some nice notification features.

So in summary, will S.M.A.R.T fix all your data whoes? No, but it can alert you to errors that your OS may not. It may just be your warning to do that one last backup.