Tips, tricks and traps


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Once you find something there's always a trick or two that will make you even more productive


Traps and gotchas that will make it hard for you, so why not read on and avoid them?

Dealing with Medicare

Man this medicare stuff is complicated. Here are some notes and tips on:

Plan A

This is the hospital related. You pretty much always get this if you worked or your spouse every worked it is free. Otherwise you have to pay a premium of $400/month or so to the government.

Part B

This is out of hospital. You have to make sure to enroll for this each year, so you have to very sure that your address is correct with the government. This is a real pain, but make sure on and that you can login. I use a password manager for this as I’m always forgetting the passwords. If you do move alot, try to use a mail service so that you have continuity. If you move and they can’t mail you things everything really breaks. Normally this should be deducted from your social security.

Part D

This is the drug coverage. You get this from a third party provider but the government may also bill you for an income related surcharge. Make sure that you have medicare autopay up and running so it doesn’t die on you. If you don’t pay the supplement you will lose part D! So Part D has two people you have to pay, your insurer and the government. You can contact your plan to get your Part D deducted from your social security.

And here are some important hygiene things:

Keep a government issued id

This doesn’t seem important but even if you don’t drive anymore or don’t travel, you want to keep your passport and your drivers license up to date (you can usually get some sort of state issued identity card). This you need to authenticate in the modern world.

Use a password manager like 1Password

Because you will forget these myriad of things as you only logon once a year and they require lots of authentication. I use 1PAssword. Give the codes to a trust child or someone younger so that it always is around because losing your passwords in the modern world is terrible.

Using Flickr for sharing

Now that there is 1TB for free per account up there, it’s time to figure out how to use it, here are some tips:

  • There is an automagic uploader, it watches files on your Mac and when it sees a change, it does an automatic upload and discards duplicates. It automatically sorts the photos by their position in the directory which is awesome if you like me have sorted your photos by time stamp into different directories
  • There is a group feature which allows people to add all their photos into a particular group. Groups have a nice URL. The base user interfaces seems to restrict yo to just six photos per click to post, but if you go into the Organize tab, then you can select any album and shove that entire thing into a group. Pretty useful.

  • It also allows 3 minute videos to be uploaded as well.

Here are some other tips:

  • In the Groups page, you can multiple select by clicking on a photo, then go to the last photo you want and CTRL-click.

  • If you want to send an entire album to a group, you don’t click on the add to group user interface. That one only allows six at a time. The way to do this is to use the Organizer interface ( which let’s you select an entire album and then send it to a group. I don’t know why this is asymmetric, but it is :-)

Photos sucks for Slideshows

Well, while Photos may look good, it surely is sad to lose iPhoto for a couple of reasons:

  1. Storage. If you don’t use Photos to store you library, then it creates a resources file that is unlinked which can double your disk usage. This makes Photos essentially useless for those of us who want to keep our libraries separate. It is either all Photos or nothing which means you can’t use it with other photo applications like DxO unless you navigate through it’s internal Libraries directory.

  2. Slideshows are awful. First of all they are so slow to generate. iPhotos is basically instant, but it looks like Photos is doing rendering (with iPhotos, this is a separate Export step). So a 600 photo slideshow on a Mac Mini 2009 takes hours of grinding on Photos but is instant on iPhotos.

  3. Music appears only if you close the applications. With iPhoto and Photos, it only sees iTunes music that is actually downloaded, it doesn’t support viewing iTunes Match music which lives in the cloud, so you have to download. Second is that Photos doesn’t refresh iTunes music unless you close the application completely and start it up again.

  4. Music isn’t sortable. Also, it doesn’t seem to know about playlists or albums, so you only get a single view which looks like Artist by Album. Pretty inconvenient unless you know how to search.

  5. Adding photos to a slide show appears in random order. This is hugely aggravating if you are trying to stay chronilogical. That’s importat for things like travel slideshows (a general use case).

Haswell-E dream machines

Well I haven’t had time to analyze things, but late breaking facts:

Intel SSD 750 vs Samsung. The new Samsung M.2 will be x4 PCI Express with NVMe, they give a real run for the money for the Intel PCIe Express slot cards. I love the idea of a 2400MBps read with 70K IOPs and very low latency and this will be a real dog fight. The thing is that this requires a full PCI Express 3.0 with 4 lanes (x4). So it puts pressure on the overall system and probably means the Haswell-E which are really the server Xeon chips get pretty interesting. 

So ideally if you want to take full advantage of a couple of these bad boys and also have a dual SLI graphics card, then you need more PCI Express lanes. The vanilla Haswell or Broadwell (14nm shrink of Haswell) has 16 PCI Express 3.0 lanes (1GBps) and 8 PCI Express 2.0 lanes (500MBps). So at a minimum you would need 8×2 or 16x for the graphics cards and 4×3 for a pair of the SSds which is a total of 28 PCI Express 3.0 lanes. The system needs several lanes for itself and that pushes you into either the lower end Haswell-E. The lowest end Haswell-E has 28 PCI Express 3.0 lanes while 40 lanes is standard. 

All of three of the Haswell-E share the same LGA 2011-3 as the Xeon server family v3 (vs the 1150 of the Haswell and Broadwell) and are basically server chips. They have lower clocks but more cores and more lanes but are all overclockable. So if you were putting together a really workstation class machine here is what you would need:

  • Processor. The sweet spot if you can call it that is the middle child the Intel i7-5930K which has 40 lanes and 3.5GHz clock and six cores at $600. The smaller brother the i7-5920K has 28 lanes (so still enough for either 3-way SLI 8×3=24 or 2-way SLI plus 3 PCI Express x4 SSDs) but at $450 running at 3.3GHz is probably the value leader with the extra lanes enough for most uses. So get the i7-5920K as the value leader for most uses.

  • Disks I’m assuming you will want a separate boot/program SSD, another one for data storage and then a scratch SSD so that for content creation, you are getting essentially a system disk, application disk and scratch disk. That implies a minimum of three drives and 4x lanes each to 12x lanes. So you might end up with 512GB system, 1TB data and 512TB of scratch. 2TB of all SSD should make anyone happy :-)

  • Graphics. It sure looks like the sweet spot is the SLI of two cards so 2 x GTX 970 is very cost effective. Benchmarks show you need 8x lanes for each, so that’s 2×8=16 lanes

  • Memory. For graphics and photography and photoshop slnging around 500MB TIFFs and 4K video, you are going to need alot of memory. With the DDR4 systems, that’s not a problem compared with the 32GB maximum of Haswell/Broadwell’s DDR3 implementations. So call it 4-8 slots depending on where you want to end up. Perhaps 64-128GB would make anyone happy.

  •,3934.html#mce_temp_url#. The motherboard is mainly about what you want to connect and the making sure you have enough slots. This means a big motherboard since you will need double width slots for the GPUs or 4 slot equivalents plus your SSDs need to either use the new small form factor connector M.2 or SFF or have their own PCI Express x4 card slots. A board like the budget MSI X99S SLI Plus is a good example at $200, it has 8 memory slots (not the usual 4, so 64GB is easy to build) then it has 4 PCI Express slots. The first two are double width so work with two graphics cards (8×2 = 16 lanes), then you have room for the M.2 slot with 4 lanes and then two more PCI Express for NVMe memory so you use 2×8+4+2×4 = 28 lanes of PCI Express 3.0 so just right for the i57-5920K.


Well the portal may be dead, but they do have this Amerideal thing. You have to opt in but some incredible deals are:

  • 10% off of Starbucks purchases which is incremental to the points you earn.
  • 15% off of Sears and combining that with a click through Alaska Airlines of 5 miles/$ (worth about 10-11%) plus their My Way rewards program (another 1%) means basically 25-27% off anything at Sears!

The sad death of the Bank of America shopping portal

Last year was just an also year for getting more point. We got over 50K incremental points just by using the BoA portal. He deals were amazing. 15 points for beats at one point. 

The top purchase sites were overstock, Rakuten, best buy and staples. As well as Walmart and target.and quill. And that site had a product search feature which made it way easier than searching individual sites

Sadly that portal went defunct in March 2015 so this really set me back. Here’s the current shopping strategy. 

  1. Newegg Business. Getting an account here requires a business entity but isn’t super hard. They have a 4% rebate when shopping through 
  2. Rakuten. The main thing is to watch for their rewards points. For instance this weekend they were rebating 15% via rewards points. That’s huge and the rebating really works as a triple dip (credit card, portal and rewards). Sadly their actual portal rebates are way less now. About 1% in cash or a single point with chase. 
  3. Overstock. The main thing is to watch for their rewards promotions as well. At one point we got 10% which more than made up for having to buy into their O rewards. U shouldn’t renew automatically but just when a big item justifies having the reward. The portals aren’t greAt anymore. 
  4. Staples. These guys have limited stock for 5% site rewards. 
  5. EBags. If you don’t get 20% off just wait for a sale And the. Watch for their rewards points. 
  6. Amazon. If you buy a gift card you can get a small 1% rebate. 
  7. REI. Usually good points as is nordstorms and Walmart and target. Quill is the other one 

Ubuntu 14.04.02 LTS and nVidia SLI on version 349 has artifacts

Well, I got the SLI actually running, but it looks like you get some pretty strange artifacts when you run nvidia-xconfig --sli=auto, so you are warned. I’m not sure what the right approach is here, but the code looks like.

Also if you have two monitors connected, then if you make on them primary, but the “boot time” monitor (which is different) has a different screen size, then you get this bizarre bug when the smaller monitor tries to display with the larger monitors resolution. The drivers are just confused.

nvidia_card_count=$(lspci | grep "VGA.*NVIDIA" | wc -l) if (( nvidia_card_count > 1 )) then   sudo nvidia-xconfig --sli=Auto fi


Ubuntu sort of blank screen with a strange logo on top

OK, I’m probably the only person who has ever had this happen, but it is confusing. We have two monitors setup going to two computers. One has DVI connected to both and the other has HDMI connected to both. This allows each computer to drive two monitors or when both are up, you just switch from DVI to HDMI to get the one you want.

Windows 8.1 seems to handle this pretty well. You can set a primary display and the logon prompt appears there. There is another screen and the computer is sending output but you only look at it when you want.

However with Ubuntu and nVidia, this doesn’t quite work. Even if you set a screen as primary with nvidia-settings, this is not honored on boot. What happens is that only one monitor is chosen. This is in hardware the one attached to the first DVI port, so what you see on the other screen is a Ubuntu logo, then the sound and then it goes to a logo without the logon screen. Pretty mysterious, but if you have these dual monitor configurations, make sure to plug it in and when it boost properly, that is what is happening :-)

Graphics card for Antec ISK 300-150

We need a real NVidia card for testing and it’s hard to find a low profile low height with Techreport doing a great analysis. The short thing is that the Antec is very low profile and also single slot with less than 20mm thick. 

The analysis is interesting and shows the onboard i5 Is actually decently fast but the only Nvidia card that works is the GTX 730 with DDR5. Apparently DDR3 is really too slow. 

But the EVGA for $75 does gives a decent doubling of performance. And it’s available on Rakuten. 

Windows and Ubuntu dual boot

Well there are definitely some tips and tricks here to get Windows 8.1 to live on one SSD and Ubuntu to live a different SSD and then finally to have a data SSD that both can use. Here’s how to do it:

1. Install Windows 8.1 first because Windows doesn’t work with Ubuntu. The easiest way to do this is to use a working Windows machine and get a Windows 8.1 All-in-one ISO and then use Rufus to burn the ISO onto a USB 3.0 drive (the faster the better, I’ve found that the SD to USB 3.0 converters are very fast and it is easier to keep track of SDs than USB keys).

2. Now install Ubuntu by downloading the Ubuntu ISO and using Rufus. The trick here is that when it asks you the very scary “delete Windows and replace”, you actually click *yes*, it doesn’t do this as the next dialog shows you the different hard drives on your machine. Pick the blank one and it will do a clean Ubuntu install. The Ubuntu multiboot then takes over and lets you pick what you want to do. Or, in your BIOS change the boot order if you always want to go to Windows first. This is normally the F8 key on ASRock motherboards.

3. Put all your data on the third drive. Boot to Windows and make sure to format to a GPT (not MBR partitiion) and to make it NTFS as Linux now understands that but not exFAT. The main complexity is making sure the file names stay legal when you create them under ubuntu:

  • < (less than)
  • > (greater than)
  • : (colon)
  • ” (double quote)
  • / (forward slash)
  • \ (backslash)
  • | (vertical bar or pipe)
  • ? (question mark)
  • * (asterisk)