Thursday, October 29, 2009

Please Pay For Your Software (and Music & Movies)

Probably everybody reading this blog knows that I write software for a living.  Many of you may also know that one of my pet peeves is people using software that they haven’t paid for.

The software I have been selling for the last 10+ years, FileBack PC, took me years to develop.  Actual years.  If I had to re-write it again, it would probably take me two full years of long (16 hr) days.  That represents a huge investment of my time.  Tens of thousands of hours even.

Imagine how it must feel to me to go out on the internet and find web sites that are devoted to finding ways to cheat software manufacturers by providing commercial software for free.  My own software has been found on such sites.  And I know that people are using them because occasionally someone who is using an obviously fraudulent unlock key has the audacity to ask me for help.  It is extremely disappointing to me that people will willingly take my work without placing any value on it.  It is if they are saying, “I don’t care that you spent 8 years of your life working on this, that time you spent means absolutely nothing to me.  So I’m going to take it from you anyway.”  These people are robbing me of my time and taking money out of my pocket by not compensating me for my efforts. 

Some will justify that they would never use the software anyway, if they weren’t getting it for free.  But they are still getting the benefit of having that software, which in some way is saving them their own time and effort (or they wouldn’t bother).  Even with this argument, they are saying that their time has value, but mine doesn’t.

Some will justify that the software they are using is too expensive, or that the company that produces it already makes enough money and won’t be hurt by people stealing it.  If it’s too expensive, find a less expensive (or free) tool to do the same thing.  (Or, better yet, write their own software to do the same thing.)  And if that company sold more copies of their software, they could employ more workers, or provide their employees with a better standard of living.  Or create more software.  Most companies aren’t interested in throwing away their money; most will re-invest it into growing the company, or their employees.

The whole “too expensive” argument is kind of funny to me.  If someone were to come to me and ask me to create something like FileBack PC for them, I’d charge them about $50/hour.  And it would take roughly 10,000 hours to do it.  So the project would cost $50 x 10,000 = $500,000.  And yet I only ask $55 for my efforts.  Think how many people and how much time it took to create something like Photoshop, or Microsoft Word.  Those products represent hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hours of work by actual real people.  The price the company is asking in return really isn’t so bad.

Without making this post too long, I beg you to be honest in the way you use your software.  Somebody has taken time to create it.  And they are asking for a small amount in return. 

The same goes for music and movies.  It is very expensive to create and market both.  Considering the budget for most movies is multiple millions of dollars, for a movie studio to ask $20 for a copy of that effort is really kind of a bargain.  Recording studio time to create a song runs well over $100/hr for the better studios, and most songs take a lot of hours to record and mix.  Add marketing and distribution to that, and the $0.99 or $1.29 that music labels and artists are asking for their songs is really a bargain as well.

Tech Tip: External Hard Disk Drives

If you’re thinking of buying an external hard disk drive for your computer, here are a few things to remember:

  • Of the different ways available to connect, USB is by far the slowest.  And it slows your computer down when it is being used.

    Every bit of data that goes to and from USB devices has to be handled by your computer’s CPU.  This not only makes data transfer to and from your external USB hard disk drive slow, but it also slows down the rest of your computer as well.  Other interfaces, like FireWire and eSATA, are able to transfer data directly to your computer’s memory without going through or waiting for the CPU, making them much faster.  eSATA will be the fastest, but not very many computers have eSATA ports on them yet (especially laptops).  FireWire is more common, but still not available on lower end computers.  Desktop computers can have an add-in FireWire or eSATA card installed relatively inexpensively.  Speed-wise, eSATA is faster than FireWire is faster than USB.
  • Generally speaking, bigger hard disk drives are faster than slower drives.

    The size of the actual platters containing your data remains the same, so bigger disks have to pack more data into a given area than smaller ones.  The more densely the data is packed, the more is read by the drive each time the platter spins a single rotation.
  • Generally speaking, bigger drives are more prone to failure.

    Because the data is packed more densely, the net loss of any portion of the disk going bad is much more noticeable.  The higher density is more sensitive to imperfections in the disk platter surface.  Bigger disks also tend to use newer, and thus less time-tested, technologies.
    I never buy the newest disk drives.  I always wait until a drive has matured before I will consider investing.
  • For USB and FireWire external hard disk drives, rotation speed doesn’t affect actual performance a whole lot.

    Manufacturers usually advertise the rotation speed of their drives, usually 5400 or 7200 RPM.  Just because a drive is 5400 RPM doesn’t necessarily mean it is going to be a lot slower than a 7200 RPM drive.  Especially if you are comparing a larger 5400 RPM drive to a smaller 7200 RPM drive (see the second principle, above.)
    For FireWire and USB drives, the performance bottleneck is the drive’s connection to your computer, not the speed of rotation.
  • As far as power consumption and heat issues go, 5400 RPM drives are a better choice than 7200 RPM.

    Drives that spin slower use less power and generate less heat.  And tend to last longer.
  • Brand name makes some difference, but outside of purchasing an external drive marketed by one of the major manufacturers, you never know what you’re getting.

    The major drive manufacturers (Seagate, Western Digital, Samsung, Hitachi, Fujitsu, Toshiba) market drives under their own names.  Other companies sell external hard disk drives, but usually use drive mechanisms from one of the big manufacturers, and there isn’t any way to know what brand of drive you’re actually getting.
    I have been buying Seagate drives for years without any issues, and that is what I generally will recommend. Hitachi drives have also been good for me.  My track record with Western Digital has been iffy.
  • External drives which plug directly into your network, allowing multiple computers to access their contents at once, do exist, and they can be convenient in some ways, but they can be difficult to setup, and they are going to be the slowest of any external drive solutions.  They are called NAS devices (Network Attached Storage), and they can be a little pricey.
  • The happy medium between price and storage size right now is 1 TB for 3.5” drive mechanisms, and 500 GB for 2.5” mechanisms.  Going much bigger than that generally demands a hefty price premium.
  • If a drive fails, you will lose everything on it.  So it might be better to have two smaller external drives than one huge drive.
  • Some manufacturers are offering great warranties (some Seagate drives have a 5 year warranty!), others are just 90 days.  Read the packaging closely.  Every hard disk drive is going to fail someday, and even the best won’t make it much beyond 3-5 years.  Having a good warranty will get you a replacement when yours dies.
  • Having a good warranty will allow you to get a complimentary replacement, but it won’t get your data back when a drive fails.  Always store multiple copies of your data in different places.

Generally speaking, for best performance get eSATA or FireWire before getting USB.  USB is available on nearly all computers, where FireWire and eSATA are not.  Check to see what ports your computer has.  Get a drive that is going to have sufficient storage for you for a few years, but don’t go excessively large.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Is It Really Worth It?

Every once in a while I really start thinking about the time value of money, and I decided to come up with a way to figure out how much potential interest I’m losing by buying a product instead of investing that same amount for retirement. This calculator is the result.

Enter your age now, and the purchase price of something you’d like to buy. If you wish, adjust the retirement age and interest rate. Then click Calculate. And see just how much you give up by buying something now instead of saving for the future.

UPDATE: A friend pointed out to me that (1) this doesn't include inflation, and (2) 8% is too high of a rate for the default. My response: (1) no, it doesn't include inflation; but inflation doesn't change the amount of money at the end of the investment period, just its value; so a calculator like this is still accurate. I added a field to show what that dollar amount is worth in today's dollars. (2) 8% is quite achievable in long term investment accounts like those for retirement, which is what I was illustrating here. If you are investing in money market or savings accounts, the interest rate will be drastically lower.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Trip Summary

I just got back from a long trip…

Duration: 14 days
Days spent driving: 6
Nights in hotels: 10
Saved by using for hotels: $404

Friends seen: Brian, Jess, Dale & Katie
Friends I attempted to see: lots more
Other friends connected with: Mark
Family seen: Mom & Dad

Number of Point-of-Sale systems installed: 2
Number of computers installed: 8
Number of man-hours spent installing at each store: about 12
Number of hours spent supervising and training employees: 10

Number of electronic gadgets acquired: 1 (HTC Touch Pro 2 cell phone, 32GB iPod Touch given to Brian for his help with POS installations)
Number of electronic gadgets that died: 2 (80GB Zune, Dash Express GPS)
Repairs to Truck: New brake light switch to repair failing brake lights

Number of miles driven: 3136.0
Gallons of fuel purchased: 141.151
Highest MPG on one tank: 25.993 (75 MPH freeway + 65 MPH highway in NM)
Lowest MPG on one tank: 19.924 (70 MPH freeway in OK, KS… dang oxygenated fuel!)
Average MPG Overall: 22.217
Average Fuel Per Gallon: $2.437
Tolls Paid: $8.90

Every day but the last two were overcast, with some mist and rain.  The last day was the most varied, with snow, rain, cold, hot, and dry all within a couple hundred miles. 

Audiobooks: C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain,” Jeffrey R. Holland’s “Christ and the New Covenant.”

Highs: Getting to stay with my parents for a few days, seeing Jess for a couple days, hanging out with Brian when POS installations permitted, getting a new cell phone, playing with the computer I learned to program on in the early-to-mid 1980s.

Lows: GPS and Zune dying, staying up all night for POS installation, crawling around in ceilings with fiberglass insulation.

This is what a typical register looks like when we do an installation.
That’s my software running on the computer. Most stores have 3-4 like this,
plus a server computer. I installed 6 registers, two servers, and two
LCD monitors at the make line.

This is Brian.  We went to High School together, and have kept in contact since.
He drove up from Houston and helped me with the installation.
Without his help I would have been in trouble.  I wish I got a picture of his Corvette.

Me with Jess.  I spent Friday evening, Saturday afternoon,
and part of Sunday with her in Denton, TX.


On Monday night my parents took me to Braum’s for ice cream.  I got a Strawberry Shortcake Sundae.  It was excellent.  But we were surprised by how much inflation has affected the price of the food there.  Actually, it got worse after this picture was taken.  The next day, instead of $29, the same meal was $299.

I, unfortunately, didn’t get any pictures of my parents while I was there.  Or any part of the drive home for that matter, even though I saw some beautiful scenery.  But the drive was already long enough, and I didn’t really want to make it a lot longer by stopping every few minutes for pictures.  Some other trip when I don’t have pressing tasks waiting for my attention.

Friday, October 2, 2009


My cousin Colleen’s husband Jim drew and posted this on their blog, and I thought it was rather clever…

“I’m sick of everyone fighting about football. Let’s stop being jerks to each other.”

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