October 31, 2008

Black notebooks

I bought a black notebook to go with my black notebook.

I'm a late-comer to the Moleskine fad. I've been searching for the perfect PDA for many years, before they were even called PDA's. Here's what I've used, or attempted to use, since 1991 or so: ZEOS Pocket PC (unreadable screen), Sharp Wizard OZ-9600 (way too little memory), OZ-9600II (bigger memory, but resolution too low), Apple Newton (poor handwriting recognition, body too large), HP OmniGo 100 (resolution too low), HP200LX (poor software integration, not really a PDA), Psion 3c (broken in less than four months), Sony CLIÉ N710C (thumbwheel broke), O2 Xphone (constant crashing), Nokia N-Gage QD (poor networking capability), Nokia 6600 (no Wi-Fi), and currenty, the Nokia E65 (very poor Wi-Fi signal).

Back to the Moleskine. The one I got is the very first one on the Moleskine diaries page: the 18-month weekly notebook with soft black cover, in large size. I decided to go with the 18-month version since it's exactly the same price as the 12-month one, plus there are still two more months to go in 2008.

Unfortunately, and in hindsight, I should have gotten the original hard cover version. You would think that the soft cover, being "new", should be the better one, but only after two weeks of use, the edges of the covers are curled up, and the pages are getting uneven. (See photo above.) And if I put too much stuff in the inside pocket, the rubber band leaves an impression on the cover. I did a search for hard vs. soft cover Moleskine and came across this thread. I hope mine doesn't suffer the same fate.

Happy Halloween!

October 30, 2008

Windows 7

Still no up button?!?!

(Image credit: Wikepedia Windows 7 article.)

October 26, 2008

Disable smooth scrolling in Vista (and Server 2008)

We're looking into upgrading to Windows Server 2008 at work, and I was looking into using Server 2008 as a desktop OS on my PC. I downloaded and installed a trial version of Server 2008, and immediately ran into the old smooth scrolling problem that I had with Vista.

But wait! The Neowin post has actually had an update after my previous post. And the suggested solution for disabling smooth scrolling actually worked! The correct solution is to use Tweak UI and disable the "Enable smooth scrolling" option in the Explorer section.

I never came across this solution because I've always used the old Windows 2000 Tweak UI even with Windows XP, so I never knew this option existed. Plus eventhough the new Tweak UI has this particular option, it's not needed in XP. In XP, the smooth scrolling option IE controls smooth scrolling in both Internet Explorer and Windows Explorer. But in Vista, the smooth scrolling in IE only controls IE itself, and apparently Vista has no way to disable smooth scrolling in Windows Explorer without using Tweak UI.

Other solutions that I've came across while searching for a solution to this problem mostly suggested going to [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Control Panel\Desktop] and set SmoothScroll=0. But obviously the solution wasn't that simple, or I would've done it much earlier. Changing the smooth scrolling option in Tweak UI changes more than just this one particular registry setting.

Vista here I come!

October 14, 2008

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 in black (day 7)

So, I've used the IdeaPad S10 extensively in the past week. Here are some additional thoughts. Some of the items are expande from my two previous posts.

The battery isn't that bad. Like I've already mentioned, battery life will keep going up as the battery is conditioned. I can easily get 3.5 hours of battery life now. I also have the LAN disabled since I never use LAN. Unfortunately it still can't compare to the Aspire One's 6-cell battery. A friend bought an Acer Aspire One ("A1") a few days ago, and it can easily get 5 hours of battery life, even on the very first charge. But then my ThinkPad T60 with the standard 6-cell battery gets less than two hours of life, so I'm happy.

The PgUp and PgDn keys are really badly done. Eventhough they have their own keys which sounds nice in theory, but in actual use, the keys are located in an awkward position, are too small, and I have to reach for them. It would have been really nice if they were put together with the cursor keys and accessed using the Fn key combination, like on the EEE PC. The cursor keys are full-sized, which means the right shift key has to be shifted to the right. The A1 has a standard right shift key, but then the arrow keys are tiny.

The Ctrl and Fn keys might be a problem for non-ThinkPad users, because the Fn key is on the outside/left, and Ctrl is on the inside/right. This is identical to the setup on ThinkPads, but opposite to other brands. Because my regular notebook is a ThinkPad T60, I have no problems. (And I do keep pushing the wrong key on the EEE PC.)

The keyboard is really really nice. I'm a fast typist (120+ WPM) and I can type at my regular speed on the S10. But then I can also type very fast on the EEE PC 701. (This post is typed on the EEE PC 701.) On comparison with the Aspire One, the A1's keyboard looks and feels nicer since it has sculpted keys that look more like the keys on a regular keyboard, while the S10's keys look flattened. But the flattened keys actually give the keys more surface area, so they feel better when typing.

My S10 has Bluetooth. The Aspire One that my friend has doesn't. My EEE PC 701 was first generation and doesn't have Bluetooth. There's nothing special about the Bluetooth, it just works.

I read that others have issues with the S10's heat output. But it doesn't feel any hotter than my EEE PC, and it's just like the A1. Maybe this is because I live in an air-conditioned country.

I also installed Windows XP Pro SP3 from scratch on the S10, using a standard Lenovo USB-powered external DVD-R drive. The exact name of this wonderful drive is USB 2.0 Super Multi-Burner Drive with LightScribe, and the part number is 41N5629. I also used the same drive to install XP Pro on my EEE PC 701. There was no need to change the SATA mode in the BIOS from AHCI to IDE prior to installation. However, I also tried using a standard SATA DVD-R drive with a cheap SATA to USB converter. But the S10 couldn't detect this combo during the boot process, eventhough it worked fine once Windows is booted.

Oh, I did find an issue in the BIOS. I can't seem to put a password in the BIOS that's only used to protect the BIOS setup screen. When I set the setup password, it always prompts for the password both when entering setup and normal boot. Because I don't want my normal boot process to be interrupted by a password, I ended up having to remove the setup password.

IdeaPad S10, Acer Aspire One, and ASUS EEE PC 701. Sorry for the mess in the background.

IdeaPad S10 with the Lenovo USB drive. I took this picture while XP was installing, but I noticed later I happened to take the shot when it was rebooting, so the screen is blank. The drive does not need any additional power to work with either the S10 or the EEE PC.Pictures of the Bluetooth module. Taken from mobile01.com.

P.S. Sorry for the quality of the photos in this post, at least compared to the previous post. I really need to get a pocket camera.

October 12, 2008

Violence in the streets

At the rate the market is falling, pretty soon we'll all be worth peanuts. I've been working in Thailand for so long, and every year I make less money than the year before. (Against exchange rates with the US Dollar and rising taxes.)

Plus getting my life in danger. I was going home the other day and decided to get off the bus early to go to the bookstore. The bus I was taking ended up being hijacked by the protesters to be parked in front of the Government House.

We live in interesting times!

October 11, 2008

Best jobs in the world

We bought more European machinery recently that came with Siemens PLC's and HMI's. But probably due to cost cutting, they didn't come with any software and we were expected to buy our own.

So, I called up our Siemens dealer to buy the software, and all the software we needed cost something like $5,000. Naturally, I asked if there's any discounts I could get, or maybe there's a special low-priced Thai edition.

"Siemens can't really give you any discounts since the price is fixed from Germany, but I can give you a special."

"Huh? What?"

"I can supply the license disks to you, and you can be sure that mine are exactly like the original. For only 1/10 the price."


Not wanting to buy any pirated software and giving free money to this guy, I decided to call up our hardware supplier. After much arguing and yelling and threatening to never buy stuff from them ever again, I managed to get the software free from the supplier. They should've given them to us for free in the first place like they always did, since the machines cost the company several million dollars.

Oh, but that's nothing yet, the Thai Cyber Police (officially the Economic and Cyber Crime Division) announced (What idiot would put two video clips on a single page?) that they're are putting and end once and for all to the piracy situation in Thailand this Wednesday, October 15. (HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!)

I think the Cyber Police needs to go to Pantip Plaza and see for themselves what the piracy situation looks like, instead of just sending out spam letters to businesses threatening to sue them, even if they already use legitimate software like us! My company received like 50 copies of the spam letter. Oh, I guess they just want to go after businesses and get more free money, instead of actually punishing the sources of the problem. The pirate software sellers are obviously paying someone in order to be owning such huge shops filled with pirated software that are completed invisible to the police. Co-operation my ass.

A lot of my friends that work in smaller Thai companies tell me that their bosses are all rushing out to buy "genuine" software, since the local BSA branch announced that this time, the Cyber Police will come to businesses directly and make arrests without sending an audit letter first. I wonder where their bosses are buying software from, since if they had no clues in the first place, how can they possibly find a shop that sells software? Could they be getting tricked into buying copied software, thinking that they're originals? (Like with the Siemens situation above?) I mean, all the pirate software shops are huge and crowded, while the few and lonely legitimate software shops look like they're closing down. Plus all the copied discs come with nice boxes with shiny hologram covers, and the original software all come in little paper folders with just a little sheet of license.

October 8, 2008

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 in black (day 2)

This is continued from my previous Lenovo IdeaPad S10 post.

Apparently the S10's being sold currently in the US don't have Bluetooth. Mine does. This is the software wireless device control panel accessed by pressing Fn-F5. There is also a hardware button that toggles all wireless devices simultaneously.

Just to prove again my S10 does have Bluetooth. This is the device manager.

The pre-installed battery management control panel. You can choose the battery saving scheme manually, or let it change automatically according to the battery level.

Each scheme can be customized further by double clicking on the scheme icons.

Everything is customizable.

The Super Energy Saver scheme has an additional tab that lets you enable or disable individual hardware devices.

After cycling the battery a few times and also customizing my battery saving schemes a bit, I can easily get 3+ hours of battery life now. The backlight on the S10 is so bright I never needed to use more than half in the screen brightness setting. The CPU is also fast enough that I can use the "low CPU frequency" setting without any speed problems.

As mentioned in other online reviews, the wireless sensitivity is extremely good. I happened to need to find out today if a remote location at work can be reached using wireless or if we need to run a cable. Turns out the S10 can easily reach our main access point from the remote location, while my ThinkPad with the Intel 3945BG couldn't even find the access point.

Update: continued in day 7.

October 7, 2008

Lenovo IdeaPad S10 in black

This is one of those rare times that we got a new product ahead of many parts of the world. This S10 is bought in the stores, it's not a demo, review, or pre-production unit.

The black S10 and the included leather slipcase.

The back of the screen is a smooth matte. Fingerprints are not very visible unlike the other color variations. (Fingerprints were not wiped clean prior to taking these photographs.)

Size comparison with the ASUS EEE PC 701 and an old ThinkOutside Stowaway Keyboard. I feel the S10's keyboard is very similar to the Stowaway, both in size and feeling. I also feel it's superior to the ASUS EEE PC 1000 series. I have no problem touch typing on the S10, and I'm a very fast typist.

The blue light is the power light. The orange light is the multi-purpose wireless indicator. It blinks blue for Wi-Fi activity, orange (as shown) for Bluetooth, or purple if both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are active.

The SD card sticks out even when fully inserted, so you can't just leave an SD card inside. But this is not a problem since the S10 has a large hard drive. The SD card shown is an A-DATA 16 GB Turbo SDHC card that I normally leave inside my EEE PC 701.

The S10 has a very bright and colorful screen. Shown here the T60 is at maximum brightness, running on battery power (screen auto dimming enabled). The S10 is at half brightness.

A comparison of text size. The T60 (1400x1050 SXGA+) is running Firefox sized at 1024x1024. The S10 is running Firefox maximized. The S10's text size is slightly larger.

The only problem I have with my S10 is that the LAN port is extremely tight. But it's probably just my unit. Even if it's a problem with every unit it won't be an issue for most people anyway since most people will only use the wireless connectivity.

I've only had the S10 for a day and I get about 2.5 hours of usage in my limited testing. This is with the wireless enabled, browsing the web, and just doing random stuff. The S10 is very energy efficient since if it's left idle for a moment, the battery indicator will show that it has 3+ hours of battery life left. The battery remaining indicator changes dynamically as the usage pattern changes.

There is a shortcut key (Fn-ESC) to toggle the webcam, but no shotcut key to mute the speakers. The shortcut keys for screen brightness and volume are placed with the cursor keys. They should've been put elsewhere and the cursor keys should have been combined with Home, End, PgUp, and PgDn.

If you have any questions feel free to leave a comment or e-mail me.

Update: Continued in day 2.

October 6, 2008

Ancient benchmarking technologies

I have a really old bechmarking program called CPUmark 99 (Copyright 1998 ZD Inc.). I think it came with Winbench 99 but it was also distributed as a standalone program. Whenever I encounter a new system one of the first things I do is give CPUmark a try. CPUmark is so ancient it doesn't care about any of the new SSE instructions or multi-core CPU's or advanced caching technologies whatsoever, but I find that it can accurately judge the "feeling of speed" of a system, regardless of the actual MHz or benchmark scores produced by other synthetic benchmarking programs.

This theory got tested recently when a co-worker built a relatively high-end gaming system for a friend's friend. They decided on the AMD Phenom X4, ASUS M3A32-MVP Deluxe/WiFi-AP, ATI Radeon HD 4850 card with 512 MB DDR3 RAM, 2 GB of DDR2/800 RAM (should've bought more), and a shiny Samsung T220 22" LCD monitor. Windows Vista gave it a butt-kicking Windows Experience Index of 5.9. But when I sat down at the system and tried running some programs, I thought it didn't feel any faster than the Phenom X3 8450 (2.1 GHz) system we have. In fact, I felt it was slower! The Phenom X3 was in a low-end Gigabyte GA-MA78GM-S2H board with onboard graphics and gets a Vista score of something stupid like 1.5 since the graphics performance is so abysmal. (It's not being used for games.)

Surely enough. The X4 system only produced a CPUmark of 275, while the X3 system produced a CPUmark of 281. Eventhough the X4 did get a lower score, I felt the slowness came from running Windows Vista with only 2 GB of RAM. But the X4 should have gotten a higher score nevertheless, since it's a faster CPU with faster components. Unfortunately, the owner took the system home and I've only used two AMD Phenom CPU's so far, so I can't make any conclusions yet.

Other systems I have tested that have gotten similar CPUmarks to the AMD Phenoms include the Core 2 Duo T5750 (2.0 GHz/667) with a score of 282. This was a ThinkPad R61i. Another with a close score is a Core 2 Duo T7100 (1.8GHz/800) with a score of 277. This was a Lenovo 3000 N200. (I don't really use Core 2 Duo's on desktops.)

The fastest system we have on hand right now is an Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 installed in an ASUS P5K Premium/WiFi-AP. It has 8 GB of DDR2/800 RAM and is running Windows Server 2003 x64. It has a CPUmark of 332. Spiffy.

October 4, 2008

Gargoyle router management utility

I was just browsing the net randomly earlier this week and I came upon the Gargoyle Router Management Utility. I wasn't even reading about computers when I saw the site, and I was totally surprised to find that it's a GUI front-end for OpenWRT.

Gargoyle is based on the latest OpenWRT Kamikaze trunk, and aims toward usability for anyone. I really liked it after checking it out. I mentioned many times that I use the Tomato firmware for its simplicity and features. But after recommending and teaching about it to many others, I still find that eventhough it's easy for people familiar with configuring routers, it's very difficult and contains way too many technical terms for other users.

Gargoyle is nothing like that. It only has the essentials in the web interface and the interface is designed logically. I've cursed at Tomato many times because the "save" button is placed off screen, or having to click "add" before "save". But having just the essentials doesn't mean it lacks features. Gargoyle is based on OpenWRT, so an expert use that really needs to change settings otherwise not available in the GUI can just ssh into the shell and set them from there. Additional web interface features include a QoS management screen, bandwidth graphs, connection logging, and URL logging. My favorite feature is URL logging since it's exactly what I need to be compliant to our draconian laws.

Gargoyle is still in beta and a bit buggy, but I can see it will be my recommended firmware once it gets more stability. Oh, I had to buy another WRT54GL just to try it out because the two others I have on hand have other programs installed for learning. I admitted earlier that I know little about OpenWRT, so I've been studying and learning it and planning my next project based on OpenWRT, Gargoyle arrived just in time and now it looks like I'll base my project on Gargoyle and not the plain OpenWRT.

(I have all these routers and at home I still use a stupid ADSL modem that my ISP gave to me for free to connect to the Internet.)

(Photo credit: pottlukk)