Monthly Archives: February, 2014

Crossing into night


St Andrew’s Church, Orwell

Evening beach


Douglas, Isle of Man, in December

Spinning the cloud

You might think that, of all the household devices that could be connected to the ‘net, a washing machine would be amongst the least useful, except perhaps for the purposes of energy monitoring or service diagnostics.

So I was particularly impressed with Berg’s Cloudwash demonstrator, which emphasises the user interface aspects of connectivity. It’s always struck me that washing machines tend to have particularly awful user interfaces. Until very recently, for example, we had one where program ‘4’ was the one we used all the time. We needed to remember that, and on the rare occasions when we needed a different program, we had to look it up on a card.

Often, by giving a device connectivity, you can also give it a better user interface, even if that’s only used to configure the buttons on the front.

Adobe Creative Shackle

As anyone who uses Adobe software seriously will know, the company has moved wholeheartedly over to the ‘software as a service’ model, replacing their former ‘Creative Suite’ packages with the ‘Creative Cloud’.

Now, this makes pretty good sense for them as a company, and reasonable sense for many of their users. Adobe software has never been cheap, in fact, it’s been outrageously expensive, but there are some areas where it just can’t be beaten, and for the huge number of people who make their living from using it day in, day out, the £47-per-month subscription still makes sense. For that, you get access to almost everything – Photoshop, Illustrator, Premier, After Effects, InDesign… you name it. If you’re a design house, and you’ve gotta have it, the £570/year does at least ensure you always have the latest versions of everything.

But there are problems, too, beyond the inflated base price. It’s always been hard to swallow the fact that they charge European customers nearly twice as much as American ones, a practice they’ve continued to some degree with CC. Their upgrade pricing has never been very generous if you’re more than a version or two behind, and they release new versions regularly, so it’s not just the initial purchase that’s painful, you have to swallow a large chunk of it again every few years. And for people like me who use the software more sporadically, the cost was increasingly hard to justify.

But my recent purchase of Adobe Creative software was quite probably the last one I will ever make, for a more fundamental reason.

You see, in the past, you at least had the option of when, or indeed whether, you wanted to upgrade. With Creative Cloud, even if you can afford to keep paying, the problem is that you can’t afford to stop paying. Because if you stop, you don’t get to stick with the last version you installed. Oh no. You lose the ability to run the software altogether. And that means you lose the ability to access your own data. I’m sure in a movie plot that would be called blackmail.

They get away with it only because of branding. You see, there are many other cloud-based services where you lose access to the service, and often to your data, if you stop paying, though only a fool would sign up to one where the data couldn’t easily be exported in a non-proprietary format. But this, despite the name, doesn’t feel like a cloud service. For one thing, the software runs on your machine, not on theirs – you’re not paying them for computation power: it’s basically a software-upgrade service. However, the first part of the name is accurate: this is software used by creative professionals who use it primarily to make new stuff by combining the inspiration of their muses and the sweat of their brow. They, perhaps, more than your average cloud service user, will feel the pain when denied access to their past creativity.

So, when I realised this was happening, I took a deep breath and bought a copy of Creative Suite 6 – an expensive purchase of software that was already 18 months old – because it’s the last version that I know I’ll be able to run for many years, and will give me pretty much indefinite access to my data. Especially if, like me, you’re lucky enough to be entitled to academic pricing, I recommend you consider doing the same.

Like Apple, Adobe have generally produced very good products. But customer sentiment about the two companies is diametrically opposed. Apple’s customers generally love them; they have plenty of choice elsewhere but they keep coming back to pay the inflated prices because they delight in what they get in return. Adobe’s customers, on the hand, despair about the fact that they have to keep paying the inflated prices because they have little choice elsewhere. I think one of these is not a recipe for a sustainable long-term business. The Creative Cloud has thrown the issue into sharp relief.

Why you should cancel your insurance.

Golly! Now here’s something I hadn’t considered. If you sell a vehicle, or have it stolen, make sure you cancel the insurance on it immediately.

Adrian Higgs pointed me at this post by a solicitor specialising in motorbike-related personal injury claims. Mmm. I imagine they’re busy. Anyway, the story is of someone whose bike was involved in an accident after he had sold it. The new owner wasn’t insured, so the claimants came after him…


Under European law innocent road users are entitled to be compensated for their injuries and the idea is a “cascade” of insurers and indemnifiers. So if the buyer had proper insurance, his insurers would pay up. (Insurers can “void” a policy if the proposer answers a question dishonestly or recklessly. A classic is “forgetting” to declare points or a claim. The insurers can simply say that the policy never existed. They have to go through a process for this and this may well already have happened.) The next stop on the cascade is an insurer who has taken a premium for the vehicle and the policy was not lapsed at the time of the collision, and that is unfortunately where you have become unstuck.

If this is really the case, it’s something to take seriously.

Trapped on the wire

Trapped on the wire

On Saturday, we had some of the strongest winds I can remember in the UK, at least when I wasn’t on top of a mountain or at sea…


Bourn Brook, Toft, Cambridgeshire

And he walked the length of his days under Anglian skies…

Drive to live?

hddOne of the very valuable things to come out of large data centres is large-scale reliability statistics. I’ve written before about my suspicions that my Seagate drives weren’t as reliable as they might be, but I had insufficient data for this to be anything other than anecdotal.

And then a couple of weeks ago, I pulled a couple of old 2.5″ drives off a shelf — Western Digital ones, I think — intending to reuse them for backups. They both span up, but neither would work beyond that.

So I was very interested by this Backblaze blog post which discusses their experience with a few thousand more drives than I have at my disposal. They use consumer-grade drives, and are very price-sensitive.

A quick summary:


Some quotes:

Hitachi does really well. There is an initial die-off of Western Digital drives, and then they are nice and stable. The Seagate drives start strong, but die off at a consistently higher rate, with a burst of deaths near the 20-month mark.

Having said that, you’ll notice that even after 3 years, by far most of the drives are still operating.

Yes, but notice, too, that if you have four computers with Seagate drives, you should not expect the data on one of them to be there in three years’ time. And, quite possibly, not there by the Christmas after next.

The drives that just don’t work in our environment are Western Digital Green 3TB drives and Seagate LP (low power) 2TB drives. Both of these drives start accumulating errors as soon as they are put into production. We think this is related to vibration.


The good pricing on Seagate drives along with the consistent, but not great, performance is why we have a lot of them.

If the price were right, we would be buying nothing but Hitachi drives. They have been rock solid, and have had a remarkably low failure rate.


We are focusing on 4TB drives for new pods. For these, our current favorite is the Seagate Desktop HDD.15 (ST4000DM000). We’ll have to keep an eye on them, though.

Excellent stuff, and worth reading in more detail, especially if longevity is important to you. It’s tempting to fill old drives with data and put them on the shelf as archival backups, but this would suggest that you should only use new drives for that!

Oh, and if you’re wondering about which SSDs to buy, this report suggests that Intel ones are pretty good.

Update: Thanks to Dominic Plunkett for the Backblaze link, and for Rip Sohan for a link in the comments to the TweakTown article that attempts (with some, but not a great deal, of success) to debunk some of this. The previous article I mentioned above links to an older Google study which didn’t distinguish between manufacturers and models, but did say that there was a correlation between them and the failure rates. It also catalogued failure rates not too dissimilar to the Backblaze ones after 3 or so years, so the general implication for home archiving remains!

Season of mud and mellow squelchiness


© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser