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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Nothing to see here anymore. ;) Move on over to the new site here.

6/10/2009 12:22:00 a.m.


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Well, just a short little snippet, but I actually held my first Blackberry today. My Dad was 'issued' one by the company and I had a chance to play around with it a bit. It's definitely a slick piece of hardware. You'd think typing on something like this would be a pain, but it's actually very quick and easy. It's not one of those almost-dedicated email thingies anymore. It's got the two letters to each number like buttons, but their intelligent typing is really slick. You can basically press on the buttons with the letter you want and be almost guaranteed that you typed what you wanted to at the end of a sentence. For example:

You want to type 'fox'. That means you push the buttons 'DF', 'OP' and 'ZX'. Clearly the only real word you can make from that order and combination is the word fox. So even though you'll actually type 'DOZ', it'll change it after you're done typing to fox. Unless of course you actually want to type DOZ in which case you just do some random other command it'll do that. But essentially it's very problem free after you learn it. It's not like you have to press those buttons twice to get the second letter all the time.

Crackberry? Definitely possible. I'm drawn to it even after just playing with it for like 20 minutes. Then again I'm a sucker for cool gadgets.

12/20/2005 07:23:00 p.m.

All In The Name of Productivity

Saturday, November 19, 2005

What's technology all about? Sure you hear about furthering humankind and all that, but let's be honest here. It's so we can be lazier and lazier. But it's not all bad. We can only hope that people aren't just getting lazier as technology takes over a lot of the tasks in everyday life. So instead of wasting our effort on doing things a computer could do almost infinitely faster, we can focus our efforts on things technology cannot replace such as cohesive thought, creativity, etc. So I'll show you some of the things I've been using recently on my laptop that has made using it both easier and more productive.

1. Universal Vista Inspirat Brico Pack 1.1

Okay, so I lied a little. This shell replacement doesn't directly affect my productivity. But I'm still something of a sucker for aesthetics so I guess you could say indirectly it helps me by presenting everything in a nicer fashion. Plus the shortcut bar at the bottom saves me like a whole 2 seconds of searching through my start menu to find an application. Here's what it looks like.

As you can see, I even have iTunes skinned to match! Yummy.

2. Maxthon Browser

This was actually really luck that I happened upon this new web browser for me. You may remember (or perhaps not) that I used Konfabulator for my RSS feeds, the weather and email notification. Well, it's an awesome application; however I have two gripes with it.
  1. Each 'widget' that you run is essentially a separate instance of Konfabulator. And each of those instances used up 5-10MB of memory. That meant with my 8 or so widgets open at any one time, I was using up a massive amount of memory just to show relatively little information.
  2. Konfabulator was set to open up when Windows booted up. Due to the nature of the widgets that I was using (weather, emails, RSS and others) they had to connect to the internet to retrieve updates. This meant a very slow loading process each time I started up Windows.

These two downfalls made me actively look around for a replacement that could do the same thing but on a smaller memory footprint and less time to sync. At first I tried the Google Desktop sidebar but I wasn't impressed at all with the look of it or its functionality. The bar was a little small for the amount of RSS feeds I wanted to show. It was actually when I was searching around for the Microsoft Desktop Search app that I came across a web browser called 'Maxthon'. It's a web broswer based off the Internet Exploder engine but with a ton of improvements and added features. To name a few, you get tabbed browsing, a RSS reader, Gmail notifier through a plugin, a dictionary search plugin, and a generally slick interface. Firefox still has some problems with some pages, but since Maxthon uses the IE engine, you can almost be assured things will work well. Plus, this was especially good for me since UWaterloo's sites favor the IE engine a lot more. Pages load quite a bit faster than in Firefox.

So in one swoop, I was able to do away with Konfabulator. The browser can now sync my RSS feeds, show me the weather and check my multiple Gmail accounts. It lets me use mouse gestures I got used to from my time using Opera and it has the functionality I liked about Firefox such as the Adblocker. Have a look. There's the RSS feed in the sidebar.

3. Windows Live Beta

This site was pointed out to me quite a while ago. I had read a bit about Microsoft's 'Live' initiative, but I never really paid it any attention. After all, it is coming from Microsoft. In any case, about a week ago, someone in my residence mentioned how slick it was. He showed me his customized homepage and I immediately liked it. First take a look at what it is.

Once again, I've streamlined my browsing experience. Instead of being in the sidebar of the browser, I can have it all laid out in the whole browsing space. Additionally, I get my weather there and the stocks of the companies that I find interesting. So if you feel like trying it out, just log in with your MSN passport and start customizing your page. There's not too much in terms of extras than you can add just yet since it's still in beta, but I definitely see great potential in it. Actually it's very much like Google's Personalized Homepage, but I find this much neater and pleasing to the eye. To each their own I guess. And shamefully, I've found myself using the Microsoft internet search more and more these days mostly since it starts up as the homepage anyways. Google's becoming a little too powerful these days anyways. $400 stock price? $110+ billion market cap? That's just getting a little rediculous. I remember during our high school stock challenge reading all the analyst comments on Google. They looked rediculous setting $200+ stock price targets but that doesn't look so rediculous now does it?

4. Microsoft OneNote

It seems like I've been a big proponent of all the things I've hated these days doesn't it? First it was Apple. I defended them against some really irrational people. Now I'm pimping Microsoft like there's no tomorrow.

Anyways... Microsoft OneNote. To be honest, I haven't even used it for very long at all. In fact I just loaded it up on my laptop this past week. However, even just through that little bit of time, I've found it to be very useful for a student. I actually received a free copy of it from the university and it had been sitting there for the past two months, untouched. However after a bit of reading, I realized just how useful it could be for me. My laptop hasn't been really all that useful for me in classes themselves. I found programs like MS Word too confining in terms of what you can put down. It's basically impossible to use a laptop for any science or math class since you can't easily write down equations or draw diagrams.

Well, OneNote takes your regular old Word processor to a new level. Instead of just being able to type things, you can integrate graphics, audio clips, and drawings all directly on the page. Plus OneNote takes the idea of your high school notebook and digitizes it. You start off with a blank 'notebook' which is divided into sections. Sections can further be subdivided. For example, I have a classes section which is then divided into sections for each of my classes. Big projects are stored under the projects section with subsections for each project. Then each subsection is divided into pages which allow you to move through your notes without reading everything. Pages and even sections of notes can be moved around by just dragging them to where you'd like them. You can even make to-do lists quickly and easily. Don't I sound like a PR person or something right about now?

Oh and a little side notepad starts up with Windows. So if I have anything on my mind that I want to just scribble down, I can do it digitally instead of writing it down on a random sheet of paper I'll probably lose. It's great for reminding me what I want to write about in my blog! Here's what OneNote looks like.

It's really too bad that I've only now discovered this nice application. I found myself writing less and less throughout my semester in my binders since I realized it would be almost impossible to read through it logically later. Stuff is scribbled down and somewhat incomplete. If I had used OneNote for my notetaking, I'd be able to reorganize all my notes after lectures easily and the search function would've been indispensible. I know now for next semester though.

So that's all for now. Perhaps you found something you liked this post. But either way, these applications have helped me improve my productivity. I'm just glad I can squeeze more time out of my day to get these projects finished at a decent hour. You wouldn't believe how much that extra 20 minutes of sleep can do.

11/19/2005 01:56:00 p.m.

I've Got Nothing Against Apple

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Let me prove it to you. I was doing some tech news browsing during my break from studying (now) and I came across a very lame and frustrating article.

Suit filed over Nano scratches

I mean, that is just plain stupid. There's a class-action lawsuit against Apple due to 'excessive' scratching of the iPod Nano. Jeez, I mean clearly if my iPod doesn't look new after using it, I should be entitled to some money right? I had a 3G iPod and scratched that up, but did I go clamoring around bitching at Apple? No. I bought a frigging case to put it in. I can see what things are going through these peoples' minds. 'Ho hum, I spent $300 on a Nano, I was going to show it off, but I accidentally put it into the pocket with my keys and it scratched... Hmmm how can I get back at them since they won't let me exchange it for a new one? I know, LET'S SUE THEM!???!!!!!111 w00TOMGOWZN0REDNUBS!!!11!' I'd personally suggest them to purchase a baseball bat and smack themselves upside the head.

I know I know, you bought the iPod to show off to your friends cause your wang's a little too short to brag about. And now that your new Nano is scratched, well it makes you feel even less adequate than the tiny tot does. So basically you spent $300 and now you can't even make up for it. What a shame. Maybe, instead of doing that, you'd buy it to actually use it for its functionality. Sure it's a very nice looking device, but I damn well hope you didn't buy it just to show off. In that case, I'm sure I could start up a company and make Nano shells and sell them to you for $200. I mean a whole $100 cheaper and it'd do everything you want it to do anyways... Impress people.

You know what I have to say to this lawsuit? I think I'm going to go buy a 5G iPod, yeah the one that uses the same sort of protective plastic covering as the Nano. Yeah, that one that scratches... Maybe even easier than the older iPods.. Oh no. My Creative has finally bitten the dirt (I think for the last time) today and no amount of resetting or whatever could revive it. I'm going to get that new iPod and I'm going to take care of it and keep it relatively scratch free. Even when it does scratch (and oh it will, sorry to wake you from your dream world, but things you use tend to look used) I'm still going to use it and take care of it cause I spent $400 for it.

To be honest though, this is partially Apple's fault too. It's not because they're using shoddy materials, far from it. It's because of the image of the company. In the past, people have bought iPods, iMacs, whatever because they were aesthetically appealing. Apple became known as a juggernaut of design. People flocked to the products not necessarily because of functionality or features. They bought them because they became like something like jewelery. Something to indicate status. Way back when, you could say, 'I've got an iPod' and people would crowd around to get a look at it. Physical appearance has overtaken everything that the iPod is. So when that 'feature' gets messed up, of course people are going to complain. I bet if the menu system messed up, less people would complain than if it scratched. That's just the way it is and really mirrors how our society works. What is held and happens underneath that pleasing outside layer really doesn't matter to them. They don't look at that screen and marvel at its engineering design or the thinness of the player and think about how it's possible.

I'm buying the 5G iPod because the screen's going to be nice to have for playing Family Guy episodes on the bus back home. I'm buying it because it has a very nice price/storage ratio. I'm buying it because I'm going to use it as a music playing device. Sure, it's awfully nice looking and all, but I'm not going to have a stroke when I find that first scratch.

10/22/2005 05:44:00 p.m.

This Pisses Me Off

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Well, I'm what you would call a computer enthusiast. I eat, drink, and breathe computers. Okay, so maybe not that intense... In any case, I've done quite a bit of work with computers and I've done enough mods and overclocking to be pretty experienced with it. But as an enthusiast, I always keep one thing in the back of my mind. There's a chance of breaking stuff. That's just the way it goes.

When you run a piece of hardware way past its specified limits, of course you're running a risk. You're making that toy operate outside of the limits given to it by the manufacturer. That warranty only covers malfunctions under normal operating conditions. Slapping on huge copper heatsinks and overvolting breaks that warranty you agree on when purchasing that item. I've probably broken the warranty on 90% of the computer hardware I own. But I take a calculated risk. I understand that I'm outside warranty coverage and that if it messes up, well I've had my fun and I paid the consequences.

Some people don't understand that.

Volt mod your 6800go non Ultra (or Ultra) L@@K here!

That's just a recent example of a row I got into with a fellow forum member. Now I don't post too much at that forum (only around 500 posts or so) but this thread really hit a sore spot for me. The computer enthusiast group is a very exclusive group and I feel honoured to be a part of it. These people are doing a grave dishonor to it. They're voltmodding their cards, frying them and then returning them under warranty to get a free replacement. Clearly this is not covered by the warranty and shows deep dishonesty and immoral practice. One guy in particular is practically condoning these activities. I cannot stand for that.

Maybe it's because I'm on the road to becoming an engineer and the basis of that profession is well, professionalism. We have a duty to the public to be ethical and moral. Those are the fundamentals upon what we're based. I've fried my share of hardware, including a Radeon 9700 Pro back when they were pretty expensive still. But did I go running to ATi asking for a replacement? No, because I understood the risks and I faced the consequences. These people should do the same. These are the people who, in part, contribute to the high costs of some products. These, cheap, dishonest people are causing the rest of us pain, whether you realize it or not.

Now it may sound like I'm overreacting a bit here, and perhaps I am, but my point still stands. As a consumer, we have responsibilities too. If you expect me (in the future an engineer) to be ethical and design and make products for you, I expect you to be the same back. Don't trick me or fool me to try and make up for your own stupidity. Take responsibility for your actions. We really need more of that in this world.

So I'm calling you out shoman24v. If you can't or don't want to afford replacing something, then don't mess with it.

10/08/2005 11:03:00 p.m.

Steam (rehashed)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

You may remember an article I wrote about the crappiness of Steam. I didn't say it at the time, but I was looking for a specific animation I had come across. Well, just randomly browsing through a driver forum, I came upon that animation. I shall now share it with all you out there.

I've been using Opera actually more than Firefox for the past few days. So far, I've found quite a few quirks with it, mainly problems opening some pages. Templates are a bit messed up sometimes. In fact, I couldn't post in Blogger with it, so I'm back on Firefox for this posting session. Not sure if it's something I'm doing wrong or whether it's just not properly supported. Anywho, Opera 8.5's free, which is what really prevented me from trying it out in the past. I never really felt like paying $30 or whatever for a internet browser... Oh and you can talk to it and it'll do stuff. Pretty nifty for you lazy folks out there. =D

On a separate note, we saw a video in one of our classes about technology that really struck a chord with me, in a good way. It really made me think about technology in our lives. I'll write something about it soon. Maybe this weekend or something.

9/22/2005 07:56:00 p.m.

Finally a Semi-Good Apple Product

Friday, September 09, 2005

Yes, I have to admit, once in a while Apple will launch something I don't want to lose my lunch over. In this case, it was the recent launch of the Ipod Nano. Packing 2GB or 4GB into a very small casing, it's supposed to replace the Ipod Moni. Now the main reasons I like this new player are size and performance. Size well, that's obvious. It's very small for especially the 4GB version. The reason behind the large reduction in size is that it's using solid state storage (flash storge) as opposed to mini harddrives as most players of the 4GB size use. Apple secured a very large and (relatively) cheap order of high density flash memory from Samsung. It has allowed the player to become very slim while maintaining decent battery life. Flash storage, having no actual moving parts brings down power consumption a great deal.

Performance should be improved as well. Flash storage is generally much quicker than hard disk based. Take RAM for example. They run along the lines of 50-200 nanoseconds access times while hard drives (desktop 7200RPM) are usually in the range of 10-13 milliseconds! That's a huge difference. These MP3 players use slower hard drives than your regular desktop 7200RPM drives as well. Even with flash memory being quite a bit slower than RAM, it's still significantly faster than a hard drive. So instead of waiting a few seconds when skipping around to random tracks, it should now be instantaneous. Now I've personally (obviously) haven't used this Nano, but if it performs anything like the flash players out there now, it'll be a great improvement on any micro hard drive based DAP.

But am I going to get one? The answer is still no. Well, if it's so good, why wouldn't I get one? Aside from the matter of price (I could get another 5GB Zen Micro for less than the cost of a 2GB Ipod Nano) its storage space is too little. I don't understand how Apple intends on replacing the Ipod Mini line with the Nano. In terms of storage, it's going backwards. Of course, Apple should be able to easily slip in another 2GB or even 4GB of flash and launch 6GB and 8GB players, but with the prices where they're at now, I can hardly imagine what those would price at. Personally, I have the 5GB of my Zen Micro nearly filled to capacity. Even a 4GB Ipod Nano wouldn't have enough room for my collection. Soon, the Zen Micro may not even be enough, but with 6GB players widely available and 8GB microdrive DAPs coming down the pipe, I should be okay.

So what do I say? A very nice move by Apple to go with flash, improving performance and decreasing size at the same time. However the step backwards in terms of storage space will keep people like me wanting.

9/09/2005 07:45:00 p.m.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

So uh came across this article which is a little disturbing to say the least. I can't say I admire Google very much for trying to steal MS execs and top employees, but on the other hand, I don't like Steve's supposed comments either. In any case, you decide for yourself. Microsoft's gotten a little too powerful anyways. Seems like that legal stuff is just a chip off their profit block that they practically factor in nowadays.

Microsoft CEO: 'I'm going to f---ing kill Google'

And this video of Balmer is quite entertaining and embarrassing at the same time.

9/03/2005 08:55:00 p.m.

Windows Pwned Me

Friday, September 02, 2005

So I had decided long ago that I would do a reformat before I headed off to university. I wanted a system in pristine condition with no crap on it to bug me while I'm at Waterloo. I had loaded up a bunch of useless junk that was cluttering up my hard drive when I was still in semi-testing mode. I had gained a lot more experience with what programs are useful and which ones are not on my laptop. So last evening I started with a, what I thought would be a straightforward reinstall. Boy, was I ever wrong.

I pop in the Windows XP CD and reboot the computer selecting the DVD burner as the first boot device. System restarts and I press any key to boot from the CD. Good so far, Windows is checking my system configuration. Blank screen. Hmmm, that's odd. Hard reboot. Whoops, again... Well, maybe I'll wait and see if it loads up the windows setup after a bit. So I sit there and nothing. Not to be discouraged, I go off to play some UT2003 while I wait. Come back like 3o minutes later and still nothing. So I take the CD out and take a look at it. Well, it's slightly scratched. So I decide to try it out on one of the desktops here. Loads up no problem. Oh well that's not good. Could it be the DVD burner be busted? No, I don't think so. I've read plenty of discs that same day. So I decide to start into Windows on the laptop (remember, I still haven't been able to install anything so I haven't formatted yet). Everything's working fine, the DVD burner still seems to be fine.

At this point, I'm kinda stumped. There doesn't seem to be anything wrong with the disc or the drive. I check the BIOS over, loading defaults, but that doesn't change anything. I try hooking the laptop up to another monitor thinking it may be the LCD being messed up. I try a different mouse as the USB sometimes messes up OS installs. I start a massive search on net through various tech forums to see if anyone has had similar problems. Not really, the closest I could find was someone having to change a setting in the BIOS to output to an LCD or something. Well I have no setting like that in my BIOS. I also read that overclocking could cause it. Well, the dipswitch mod I have has overclocked the CPU from 1.6GHz to 2.13GHz, but I've been running like that since ever and I haven't had a problem. Well, it's worth a try, I don't really have anything else to go on. I disassemble the laptop again, setting the switches back to default. While I'm at it, I take the whole cooling system apart and did a mod to improve cooling a bit.

Put it all back together and nope, still no go. By this time I've entered somewhat intial panic mode. I haven't really come up to a computer problem of my own that I haven't been able to solve. It would seem like as long as I've gotten myself into it, I can fix it. And this was stumping me solid.

Revelation. I've got a dual boot of SuSE 9.2 Pro and WinXP Pro. The MBR (master boot record) was rewritten by my SuSE linux install. That could be preventing my system from booting off the WinXP CD properly. So I start looking for tools to reformat the system from a boot disk or the like. Couldn't come up with anything conclusive. Then I remember that I have those linux distro discs all around me. Those'll wipe the hard drive for sure. I load up my SuSE disk and proceed to reformat everything. Unfortunately I couldn't just wipe the drive, I started installing SuSE, but I didn't want that, so I canceled the install. So I was left with a semi-clean hard drive. Trying it again, I'm greeted by the same blank screen that's been haunting my system.

Now the crazy ideas start flying. I consider taking it apart and installing the hard drive on my desktop computer. Now this isn't as easy as it sounds. Laptops use 2.5" hard drives while desktops typcially use 3.5" hard drives. I wasn't even sure if the connectors were the same. Could I install Windows on an external hard drive? Nope, USB won't be detected til Windows is installed and I need to install Windows through the USB, but to use the USB I need to install an operating system, a bit of a catch-22 there. Could another part of the computer be defective? Well I don't have a stockpile of spare laptop parts lying around (unfortunately) so I can't really test that theory. In addition, the system was working fine so I didn't think that was it.

The only reasonable course of action I could take at this point was totally install Linux. Sure I had wiped the hard drive, but it had installed a small part before I canceled it. Perhaps a partial boot record was there. So it's well past midnight by this point and we were going to Niagara-on-the-Lake the next morning, but that's another story (I've got some really nice pictures to share) ... I install linux which takes like a solid hour hoping it would work. Finish installing linux. Restart the system, insert the Windows CD. Windows is checking your system configuration. Blank screen. Crap. Then, Setup is loading. Hooway! So it finally worked. I proceed to do a barebones install of Windows XP cause I'm too tired to get all the drivers and updates going. Crash to bed, the end.

Moral of the story? There is none. On the plus side, I've got an updated version of the RSS reader for Konfabulator which is friggin awesome. Helps me keep sober reading about the going ons in Louisiana. Truly sad what's going on there. Oh remember that cooling thing I said I modified? Well, it dropped my CPU temperatures by around 10 degrees C after I put the dipswitch mod on again pushing the CPU back up to 2.13GHz. Nice eh? (oh, for those of you who don't know if that's a lot or not, yes, it's a huge drop, in the range of like a 15% temeperature drop. 1:15AM now and I'm tired after not much sleep last night and heavy hiking today. Off to bed I go!

9/02/2005 01:15:00 a.m.

Quest For The Perfect MP3 Player: Intro

Monday, August 15, 2005

Once upon a time, I bought on impulse an Apple 3rd Generation iPod. The iPods were all the rave and despite my fascination with technology I never did have a MP3 player. That was just a little before I was about to set off to Quebec over the summer for my job at a National Park. I decided I wanted to be able to carry my music collection with me so I could listen to it over there. I didn’t feel like taking a portable CD player (which I also did not have) with 50 CDs. Thus iPod in hand, I set off to Quebec. That was to be the commencement of my quest for the perfect MP3 player for me, not to mention also the beginning of my gadget addiction.

I spent a whole lot of time with that dear iPod over the summer. It and I went everywhere together. Ha, no I’m just kidding about that, but I did honestly have quite a bit of time to listen to it. It was great to have the ability to listen to my music outside of my home without bringing something overly cumbersome. However, I did find a few faults with it. Firstly, although it is relatively small (and Apple compares its size to a stack of CDs that it could hold) it was still too large for what I wanted. As well, the iPod was essentially devoid of features unless you bought this $50 accessory or that $70 extension. That was money I didn’t feel like spending on the iPod since it would only mean more to carry around with me. Finally, battery life wasn’t all that stellar. Even the rated 8 hours it never reached. Thus began my buying spree…

I needed something smaller than the iPod, had the features I wanted (like radio and voice recording) and could still hold my then 3-4GB music collection. It basically came down to the Creative Zen Micro and the Apple iPod Mini. I threw out the Mini since it was essentially an iPod, shrunk, no more features, and in stupid colors. The Zen Micro on the other hand had all the features I wanted and more. It was 5GB (slightly larger than the 4GB of the Minis then) and had decent battery life. It also came in even more stupid colors than the Mini (it’s as though that were a selling feature or something… /sarcasm). I stuck with the tried and true silver (also the first one available) just cause I’m boring and old fashioned. So I ordered my Zen Micro in late November, early December. I hoped to have it by Christmas.

And indeed I did have it for Christmas. In fact, I got it before Christmas. And by Christmas I was about ready to throw it in the garbage. The firmware I got it with was a total bugfest and so I was recommended to flash the firmware with a newer one available from Creative that fixed many of the previous problems. Little did I know that the new firmware would actually break the player I had. The thing would no longer turn on after updating. So back that player went for a replacement, but I was always left with a bad taste in my mouth. The replacement that was sent to me got lost the first time around and so it wasn’t until early February that I finally received a working Creative Zen Micro.

That’s all for this part of this article. I’ll have few more adjoining articles that will describe my experience with the MP3 players I purchased as well as a final one about why I have still not been completely satisfied with anything I’ve seen in the MP3 player market to date. Perhaps they’ll help any potential MP3 player buyers out there who are reading my blog. Here's a preview of what's to come.

8/15/2005 04:37:00 p.m.