Lottery Post Journal

Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) Officially Released!

The official release day of Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) is here, and as predicted, it took place this month (March).

The timing actually coincides with the big annual Microsoft developer's conference called MIX 09.

I have been using IE8 for many months now, so I have had an opportunity to watch the product evolve and continue getting better.  I highly recommend that any user of Windows XP or Windows Vista install it without reservation.

Lottery Post has been thoroughly tested and tweaked to be sure it works perfectly with IE8, and I can say from my own experience that the new browser works very well with practically every site on the Internet.

What makes it so wonderfully compatible is the little Compatibility Button that sits right at the top of the browser.  Any time you want, you can click that lite button and the browser will change modes to render the site in IE7 mode — for just that one site.

You can even set any site to permanently render as IE7 without having to click the button.

That kind of precise control is just plain awesome, and totally removes any need for worrying about upgrading.  It is the ultimate fall-back plan, without having to uninstall the product.

Ready to upgrade?  Here's the link:

Go for it!

Vista-to-XP ratio getting much better

Webmasters can be obsessive about Web browser statistics, such as what browser people are using, what version number, etc.

Another statistic that can be an important "tell" is what operating system people are using, because it telegraphs a lot of information about your visitors' computers and capabilities.

For example, someone using Windows 98 is going to have an old, very underpowered PC, whereas someone using Windows Vista will tend to have a more modern, capable computer.

That information is important to me because it tells me how far I can go with delivering leading-edge features.  If only 5% of the people visiting the site is capable of using a feature, I won't waste my time on it.  But if 60% of visitors can use something, I give it more attention.  If 90% of the visitors can use something, most of my effort goes there.

So one of the stats I watch closely is the ratio of Windows XP users to Windows Vista users, because the more Vista users there are, the more leading-edge features I feel comfortable spending the time creating.

For a long time, the number of Vista users remained pretty steady at only about 25% of the number of XP users.  So if there were 1,000 Windows XP users visiting Lottery Post at a certain point, I could pretty accurately predict that at that moment there were also about 250 Windows Vista users on the site.  The statistics continued bearing out that ratio for a long time.

But recently, I have noticed a sharp uptick in the number of Vista users on the site — a very encouraging statistic.

That ratio of XP-to-Vista users is now up to about 50%.  At this moment (at this time I'm writing this) there are 1,113 Windows XP visitors and 582 Windows Vista visitors — which equates to 52%.  That's nice to see!

I'm not sure as to the timing of why that is happening now.  Maybe it's the upcoming release of Windows 7, or computer companies having big sales, or something else.  But I do know that it helps bring me closer to getting my hands unshackled as far as being able to build much more slick, friendly features.

On the other hand, one statistic that is still too high, and I'd like it to drop like a stone, is the number of IE6 users.  IE6 continues to be the bane of my existence.  It is so full of security holes and is so incredibly buggy that I am constantly holding back on delivering exciting things because there are still too many IE6 users to completely drop support for it.

In fact, there are more IE6 users on the site at any one time than Firefox users.  That's a real mind-bender!  (Right now there are 303 IE6 visitors and 231 visitors using any version of Firefox.)  

Every single IE6 user has a PC that is capable of running Firefox.  Their entire web browsing experience would be 20-thousand times better using Firefox than it is with IE6, and it doesn't cost a penny to upgrade.  I wish there was a way I could reach across the Internet and click download for them.

Anyway, I mentioned Windows 7 earlier, and I'll be doing a write-up on it sometime in the future.  Suffice to say in the meantime that it is just plain awesome.  In fact, I'm using the latest build of Windows 7 (build 7057) right now as I write this.  Everything is just so refined and ... logical.  And it's fast too — faster than both Vista and XP in all the tests I've seen.  That's been my experience as well.

More on that another time!

Good quality film of Wright Brother's "Flying Machine"

I have personally never seen such great quality film of the Wright Brothers' invention, as can be found in the video linked below.

Typically the only thing shown on TV programs are quick, extremely grainy clips, and you can barely see what you're looking at.

The video linked below shows a good-quality film of several minutes in length that gives you a good look at their "Flying Machine" (not called an "airplane" or "aeroplane" yet). 

The film is from the Austrian archives about the Wright Brothers demonstrating their plane in Italy in 1909.  (100 years old!)

What is even more fantastic is there was an on-board camera on the Wright plane and the last part of this film shows it. Wilbur Wright is at the controls on both of the flights.

Enjoy an important piece of history!

Fantastic Hard Drive Cable

In my line of work I work with a lot of computer parts, and in fact every computer and computer server I use I have built myself.  (With the exception of laptops.)

As a result I get a good deal of experience with just about every type of computer accessory and part, and also get a sense for the fragile parts or parts that tend to get designed poorly by manufacturers.

So I thought today I'd pass along a tip for anyone who is involved with replacing their hard drive, or simply wants to make their computer interior a little cleaner and safer.

My tip is for a hard drive cable — specifically for SATA hard drives (older hard drives use IDE connections, and they don't work with this cable, and in fact don't even need a cable of this type).

A SATA data cable normally looks something like this:

SATA data cable

However, a hard drive also needs a power cable attached, and most off-the-shelf computers simply use a second 4-wire power cable, so each drive in the computer has a total of two cables attached to it.

Another way of doing things is to use a combination data/power cable, which typically looks like this:

Sata data+power cable

With this cable, the large connection fits over both the data and power ports on the drive, and the other ends plug into their respective data and power ports within the computer.

I strongly recommend using a combination cable like this, because it helps mitigate a few basic problems with SATA connections:

  • First, it cleans up some of the clutter caused by lots of cables inside the case.  At first, many people think, "What's the point?" when it comes to un-cluttering the interior of a PC, but there is actually some real benefit.  It can dramatically cut down on heat by allowing better circulation (hence making the computer last longer), and it makes working inside the case much safer and less error-prone.  It is very easy to accidentally plug the wrong plug when wires get tangled in a mess.
  • Even though they are light-years better that IDE connectors, SATA connectors do have a couple flaws in their design.  One such flaw is that it is easy for the cable to come unplugged because there is no built-in latching mechanism.  By combining the data with the power into one larger connector, it makes the connection sturdier and less apt to come unplugged.
  • A connector like this will also leave the main power cables from the power supply farther away from the drives, which in my book is a good thing.  I find power supply cables to be unwieldy in most instances, and I like to keep them coiled near the power supply, if possible.

However, there is still a problem with the combination data/power cable pictured above, and there is only one cable I've found that solves the issue.

The problem is a second basic flaw of SATA connectors:  they break easily.  Fortunately I've never had one break myself, but I've been close.  I've heard many stories of hard drives being ruined by a simple broken connector.

If you look at the combination cable above, you'll notice that as the data and power cables exit from the drive (the large connector), they come straight out from the connector. 

Having both data and power cables coming straight out actually creates a leverage point, with the drive connector itself being the weak point.  If those cables get forced up or down too hard, it can be easy to break the drive connector.

Inside many computer cases, there are either fans located behind the hard drives (for cooling) or else the drives can be in a cramped space, or perhaps the cables are barely long enough and need to be bent pretty hard in order to stretch all the way to the SATA ports.  In any of these situations, the straight-out cable configuration can be potentially dangerous for the hard drive connectors, and it will definiitely stress the connectors over time.

I have finally located a SATA cable that fixes all of the above problems, which is why I was compelled to write this tip.  You can have all the benefits of a combination cable, without the risk that your drive connectors will snap off.

I have no idea why these cables are not sold everywhere, because they make so much sense.  I find them so valuable that I always order more than I need, so that I'll have extras around when I need them.

And did I mention that they're cheap?  I fully expected a niche item like this to cost $15 a piece, but surprisingly they are currently offered for just $2.51 per cable!

The subtle difference between this good cable and the one that risks your connectors is that it is set at an angle, with the cables exiting from the connector at a down-angle.

Here is the good cable, shown attached to a hard drive:

SATA angled data+power cable

See how the cables come off the drive in a downward angle?  That takes all the stress off the cable, helping to ensure the connectors stay in one piece.

To show what a big difference these cables make, let me show you a 6-drive array that I built using these cables.

6-drive array built using angled combination data+power SATA cables

(In case you're wondering, each of those drives is a 1TB drive, making a 4TB RAID-5 array.)

Because there is separation between the drives, I was able to use that space to route the cables, yet not restrict airflow.  This has the following benefits:

  • The cables are completed protected from getting pulled or pushed accidentally.
  • If I need to remove a drive I can do it without removing the rest of the drives (which would not be possible if all the cables were routed down the backs of the drives).
  • Completely organized and uncluttered.
  • Fits nicely in what would otherwise have been a very difficult squeeze.  (The computer case cover closes within an inch or two of the backs of the drives.  If the cables came straight out they would probably be mashed against the case.)

So where can you get these cables?  The only place I've found is at  Their Web site says that the price of $2.51 is a sale price, but it's been at that level for a long time, so I take it to be a regular price.

I don't recommend that someone who has never worked inside a computer case go rushing out to outfit their computer with new cables, but for someone who has done it a few times, this combination SATA data+power angled cable may be just the thing.