Archive for the ‘Computing’ Category

I switched to a MacBook Pro in May of this year. And it has been a pleasant computing experience so far. Yes, my MBP had an issue. But thanks to the apple warranty I had its motherboard replaced for free. And since then I’ve upgraded the memory (to 16 GB) and at some point would love to upgrade to a SSD as well. I hear SSD’s are better in terms of not just speed and booting time, but also in terms of withstanding traveling. Though I don’t travel much, I do like to just close the flap and take it with me. Other than that, the only other thing that I plan to purchase for my MBP is apple care plan for another two years. That is just for piece of mind.

My other apple device is an iPad. I bought it mostly because I wanted to travel light when I hop around for meetings. And now I have built my work flow around it replacing the planner/notebook that I used to carry. I am now teaming a workflow centered around GTD principles, but using the pre installed applications that are available both on the iPad and MBP. I like the fact that they get synced via iCloud. The worst thing that can happen to a task management app is it going out of sync.

Besides a previous iPhone3 which I used till last year these are the first Apple computing products that I have used. And I have to say I am a convert. Every now and then I go wow over the new intel ultra books. But then I remember how I used to go wow over the MBP’s when I was on Dell’s and HP’s. When it comes to consumer electronics, Apple has mastered something that the others are still playing catch up with.

Windows8 and MS’s Surface tablet seems pretty promising. That combination, along with a new sleek ultra book might pose a challenge even for apple. Ultra book + Surface + windows phone with their shared commonalities across their OS can make the everyday computing experience for users seemless like on Mac + iOS platform. Bit given that I have already invested heavily on the Mac platform I’m more likely to remain on this camp.

Internet woes

My Internet has been giving me trouble for the past few days. I wasn’t sure what it was at first. It seemed like the connection was acting up. But the I realized. It was the router.

I am trying to make do with the equipment that I have in hand. Since I switched back to the ADSL from DSL I switched back to using an old wireless G ADSL router. And since the signal on that was crap I plugged in my old N band DSL router as a wireless access point.

The one day, during the past rainy season, the N router burned. So I was forced to go back to using the crappy G wireless signal. Not just that it was a g signal it was also an old router. So that explains why I am experiencing a crappy wireless network at home. It really is a pain.

But with my recent obsession with minimalism, I was hellbent on using what I have for as long as I could. But I think now the time has come to retire those equipment and switch onto something that is more reliable and faster. I am going to get me a better router.

Computer storage is something that you will never get enough of. Specially with the advent of the digital cameras all your life’s treasured moments seem to be stored and bits and bytes on a hard disk. Though you can put most of me online, I think it’s still cheaper and more convenient to keep the locally, specially when you’re intent may net be as fast or reliable as you may think.

I’ve been thinking of a good storage strategy for personal computing needs for a while now. And I’ve been pretty keen to build a NAS using one of the computers that were lying around. I purchased the hard drives about a month back and gave it a try. But I just could not get those old computers to boot up. I think leaving them packed Ina box did something to them. So I stripped the, of their hard drives (more hard drives now) and sold them computers for scrap.

So now I had hard drives too total capacity of around 2.5 Tb but no way of using them. I wasn’t keen on buying individual enclosures for all of them. Then I came across a multifunction hard drive docking station on eBay.

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This thing is pretty cool. It takes 3 hdd’s and apart front at it has card readers for all card types you can think of and USB ports as well. I loved it. Not only does it make easier to swap the hard drives, it will sure consume less power and space. Of course it won’t give me all the benefits of a NAS like the ability to gave it download torrents and such. But that wasn’t so much of a priority for me.

Using that and a few portable hard drives that’s had now I have a small arsenal of storage. I am using my old 1Tb external hdd as the time machine backup device for my MBP. And I am moving all my musical and photos to the other external drives on the docking station. And I am keeping one small portable and the other old hard drives as storage for my windows based computers. Since we have a few computers at home with a few digital cameras and other potable devices, the need to back them up comes up often.

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Switching seems to be a recurring topic on my blog these days. Hopefully this will be the last one in this series.

I switched ISP’s last month. As much as I was happy with the consistent service provided by my previous ISP, LankaBell, they were expensive. I was signed up for a 2Mbps connection and I was getting more than 1 Mbps consistently. Consistency is the key here, as my 4Mpbs line at work, doesn’t seem that fast, the speed is volatile and it does have a great impact on the actual throughput when you are using it.

Anyway, I was happy with the service but not with the price I was paying for it. And since SLT came up with their new broadband packages, promising minimum of 2 Mbps and maximum 8Mpbs speeds with a capped monthly usage quota, I was itching to switch. Only thing I wasn’t sure about was whether I would exceed the quota of 20 Gb per month, and whether the stated speeds would be practically available given the fact that this is shared bandwidth.

However, I faced a third dilemma. When I applied for a connection, I was told that the area I was living in was running at full capacity and that I would have to wait, indefinitely until they can activate my connection.

After about a month they did, and I managed to set up my home network using some old equipment that were in possession. Immediately, I faced some volatility issues. My connection kept dropping and it was hard to get anything done. I often kept switching back to my old LankaBell connection, in order to complete my work (I ran both connections in parallel for about a month, until I got the bill from LankaBell for another month!)

Then one day, I just turned off my LankaBell connection, and used the Wireless N router I was using with it as a Wireless N access point, and all my network stability issues vanished).

Now I am completely on the SLT broadband connection. I disconnected my Lankabell connection and they even removed their equipment. Personally for me, my Internet connection is second only to the power connection in terms of need! So far SLT had not let me down. And I am keeping a mobile broadband connection as back  up in case if something goes wrong. I am happiest when I get the bills. This connection costs me only 1/3 of what I was paying before!

I switched to a Mac. Actually to a MacBook Pro. And I am writing this post on it!

I was thinking about upgrading my laptop for a month or so now. I’ve been using my old lap top for about 18 months and I kind of got to the point I wanted a little bit more screen real-estate and a better battery life. My previous laptops battery had passed through its motions and had very little charge retention.

I was working from the road a bit, not because I was travelling on business, but because I was shuttling my kids for classes and I wanted to get some work done while I was sitting around till their classes finished. Since my usual laptops battery wont last through the duration of a class, I was using a netbook, which was getting to me with is crawling, slow performance and the tiny screen size. Even it’s keyboard was tinier than the normal laptop so even typing on it was a chore.

Hence, I was looking for a better laptop with a better processor and a better battery. And guess what came on the list that met that criteria? MBP!

It’s amazing that the best windows developers laptop happens to be a Mac. My job requires me to run Windows and the Mac supports that natively with bootcamp. And the first thing I did after getting my hands on it was actually to get Windows7 on it! I find myself using Windows& on this more than often than I am using MacOSX. I am surely hoping the tide’s will turn around as there is a some python work on the horizon.

I can’t even begin to say how much I am enjoying this machine. The display is fabulous, the keyboard feels natural under my finger tips and the over build of the machine feels so assuring. And performance, even though this one has only a 4GB of memory (as opposed to 6GB, the max allowed on my old laptop) this one never seems to be wanting of anything to perform any task that is thrown at it (Maybe it’s the Sandy-bridge processor on this?)

The design and practicality of this machine is enormous. I love the mag safe power adaptor. Even those two tiny hooks built into the power adaptor that you can use to coil the wire. The unibody feels so assuring in your hands.

Switching to the Mac had other expenses lined up for me as well Smile. I wanted a fancier bag and it had me shopping for leather bags and I ended up getting two of them!

Back in December last year I wrote about upgrading my old laptop to Windows 7. It originally had Vista home premium on a AMD 64 bit processor. Then I upgraded to Vista 64 bit and my experience was somewhat limited as I could not get all the drivers working on it. My decision to upgrade to Win7 was mainly to overcome the bad Vista64 experience. Somehow with Vista64 bit I always felt as if I was on a test PC.

My initial experience with Win7 was fantastic. It almost found all the drivers. I managed to get the wifi and Internet working. And I set up VS2010 also on it and started coding up a my latest side project on it.

Alas, contrary to all the goo rjinhs I have been hearing about Win7, my laptop developed a random hang syndrome. I would work perfectly for a while and suddenly when I was using the scratch pad the cursor would stop responding. Then to see the whole computer has hung. Also, if the computer has gone in to power saving mode and the attempt to wake up, would also result in an unreponsive computer.

The problem became aggrevated when I installed InputDirector in slave mode to control the computer with my keyboard and mouse attached to my daily use laptop. Thinking it was InputDirector I got rid if the program on both my laptops (what’s the point of running the maste when there is no slave?). But the problem still persisted. I tried the route of elimination to try to figutlre out what is causing the problem, by uninstalling one program after another but so far I have had no luck. The random hang syndrome is still there. I have hardly had a full days use on it without it hanging on me.

The write part is the windows event logs also have nothing logged to point me towards what the issue could be. I ran memory diagnostics tools from Microsoft website thinking it is my memory, but the tests came out all right.

Now I moved my personal project also to my main laptop as I have lost quite a bit of work due to this problem.

The reliability of Windows 7 on my Acer has been pretty bad. I sincerely hope te issue is some hardware issue with my laptop. I am disspointed that I have not been experiencing the rave reviews that I have been reading up about Win7.

This seems to be a topic which has been floating around for a while.  The main argument for this seems to be the plethora of smart phones and cheaper laptops.  It seems, that the phones are getting smarter and more like computers. In fact today’s phones pack as much computing power as earlier generation computers which occupied large rooms.

Then there are the laptops and the new kid on the block ‘netbooks’. While a decade ago a laptop was an expensive piece of equipment that was the forte of CEO’s and travelling executives, nowadays they have become essential tools of almost all business executives and even high school students.

The most notable a difference between laptops and desktops, apart from the foam factor, was the price. Or more significantly the high price tag associated with laptop computers.  But lately the prices of notebooks have become more closer to the prices of desktop computers of yesteryears. I remember, when I first bought my (desktop) computer, I paid around Rs. 80,000/-. But when I bought my first laptop, I paid less than that.

And compared with the hip-ness and the mobility of a laptop, coupled with free WiFi that seems to be available everywhere, or a 3G broadband connection, the desktop seems to be fast becoming extinct.. or is it?

On a recent poll over at LifeHacker.com, where they asked their readers to name their primary computer, desktops slightly edged out laptops. Personally, I too, after working for years exclusively on laptops, am now currently inclining more towards a desktop. So the desktops are going to be around for a while, it seems, or am I from an older generation?

Compared to the price of a laptop, a desktop is still pretty much cheaper. I think nowadays there is still a price difference of about 25%. But it is not what is pushing me towards the desktop. The flexibility of upgrading, that is driving me more towards the desktop.

For me, personally, it is a project to build myself the ultimate developer rig. I want to be able to tinker and milk the computer to my needs, add more hardware progressively and bring it to the level I want over time without making a significant improvement. It is a accepted norm that desktops can be made to perform better when compared to laptops.

Then the flexibility of upgrades is what is appealing to me. I have a pretty high spec in mind for my ultimate rig. But I don’t have the cash to invest in to it once. So I want a setup where I can build it over time, while still using the rig from the first build. I cant do that with a laptop, unless I have a lot of cash.

Thirdly, I got fed up of laptop keyboards, scratch pads and small screens. I found the solution for all three, by hooking a wireless keyboard and a mouse and a LCD display as the primary display and the laptop screen as the secondary screen. But after experiencing a dual monitor setup, I want to try out a triple monitor setup. And I would like all three monitors to be the same size. I know that I can probably achieve this with the help of some third party hardware device that can be hooked to the laptop, but I’d rather try that with a desktop and use my laptop for ‘mobile’ computing, when I need it out of the house or when I want to escape the environs of my home office and feel like working near the fountain, watching the fish!

That’s from a personal front. Another possible scenario that can emerge, by playing the same factors that were thought to cause the demise of the desktop could also be its savior. The ever powerful smart phones are increasingly reducing the need of lugging around a laptop. For example, I rarely carry my laptop around nowadays for meetings unless I have to do a presentation. Most things I would need to do on a laptop at a meeting, like retrieving an email or a document can be done on my iPhone. So the scenario that can evolve is that, smart phones may replace the laptops. And for homes, with the advent of media center PC’s, desktops may be the ideal devices sitting there with your movies and music and photos, serving them to different playback devices and constantly downloading new content from the Internet.

Well, as you can see from what I have been rambling all this time, I don’t think desktops are going to be gone anytime soon.

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I upgraded my old Acer Aspire laptop to Windows 7. This is the second upgrade it went through in probably a space of three months. Earlier I upgraded it from Vista 32-bit Home Premium to Vista 64-bit Ultimate.

So far this has done gone through any serious performance tests. I am still setting it up. Installing software and tools that I need to out it to any kind of effective use.

But I am going to put it through some tests pretty soon. I have hooked up my normal use lap top to a LCD monitor so it is currently acting more like a desktop now. So maybe it is time for me to start using this (I am blogging from the Win7 machine) more as the mobile computer. Only thing that prevents that is the pretty bad battery life this machine has got.

I always wanted to put this machine to effective use rather than just keeping it collecting dust as a backup machine. I think this still has a good two to three years of life left in this.

When I setup Vista 64-bit on this earlier I was going to use it to sharpen my RoR skills on it. I wanted to do something effective with RoR and was planning on using this as my non-MS development tools machine. But with me getting swamped with work, RoR was a non starter.

But with Min7, I also installed VS2010 Beta 2. So at least this time I will use this to test drive VS2010 and to start migrating some of the projects to VS2010. So hopefully, this time this machine will be used more frequently and will see me reaping performance out of it.

Since I got my hands on a Blackberry Curve yesterday, I was looking for ways to setting it up. The initial tasks included, getting my phone book into it. ALl my attempts to transfer my contacts from my Fujitsu Siemens Pocket Loox 830 through Bluetooth failed as the two devices could not identify each others services. The pairing worked fine but no transfers were done.

Then the next option was to use the software that came with my Blackberry, the Desktop Software. The CD had version 4.2.2 in it and all my attempts to install it, even after disabling UAC failed with a “Failed to Run VBScript custom actions” error message (or something like that).

Then browsing through I figured out that the error could be with the vbScript on my Vista machine and had not so much to do with the Blackberry software. So the suggested solutions were to register vbscript DLL. To do that:

  1. Locate VBScript.dll file on your machine. Mine was in Windows/System32 folder
  2. To to All Programs -> Accessories -> Command Prompt, right click on it and chose “Run As Administrator”
  3. Then navigate to the folder where the VBScript.dll file is residing (using cd commands)
  4. Run the following command: regsvr32 vbscript.dll

If your installation goes without a hitch you’ll get an error message saying that it was successfully registered.

Now run your Blackberry Desktop software. It should run without a hitch. Just make sure that UAC is turned off. I know Vista means to do good with UAC, but it seems to be messing with a lot of software out there. So I keep that permanently switched off, unless I am on a public WiFi hotspot.

moBlog now supports Photo Blogging for WordPress and Blogger platforms!

It was the most requested feature for moBlog! Support for posting photos taken with device camera’s. As far as I know there aren’t that many mobile blogging applications that support Photo Blogging! Hope this feature will make moBlog THE mobile blogging application!

All you smartphone users, yes I hear you. You need a moBlog version that works on Smartphones! Hey, I’m on it! Your patience will be rewarded pretty soon! Now that moBlog is complete with photo blogging, I am on the task of converting it to work on Smartphones!

As usual, moBlog is still in beta. So please let me know if you come across any issues or have any comments! Looking forward to hearing from all of you!

Posted from moBlog – mobile blogging tool for Windows Mobile

I have been toying with the idea of creating a blogging application for the Pocket PC / Smartphone devices for sometime. i had done some extensive research on it sometime back, but due to limited time available for coding 4 fun (as I call my experimental coding activities) I had been pushing this idea away. But since I got myself a Windows Mobile phone, this need kept popping up.

My initial reaction was to go back to the applications that I had come across earlier and try them out on the phone. Well the fist one I tried refused to work on my blog unless there was an active Internet connection. This was a major limitation as I did not want to be online while I was writing my post. I know that GPRS/3G usage is charged for the actual traffic, but the downside was an active Internet connection on the phone drained the battery! So that experienced was very shortlived.

Then I did come across several other applications that allowed you to work offline, but I had small issues with them. Some I had issues setting up and running. They had exceptions. Some supported only one blog. I wanted something more as I have a couple of blogs. And I wanted my client application to support all of them without me having to delete and setup when I wanted to switch blogs.

 Also, I still had the urge to develop an application myself. With my involvement in GMobileSync now I was experienced in working with the GData API as well. So I went to work on my Mobile Blogging Application: MoBlogger.

Here are a feature list:

  • Multiple profiles
  • Multiple Blogs within a profile. So if your blogger account has multiple blogs setup, all of them will work!
  • Work Offline – you can work offline and save your posts for uploading later.
  • Supports labels.

Sounds great right? Well yeah… except right now it only supports Blogger! But I am working on supporting multiple blogging platforms! The immediate platforms on the radar are WordPress.com and Windows Live Spaces.

In the mean time if you would like to have a go at it, drop me a mail, I’ll be happy to send you an installation.

I have been busy and it’s not just been my work! I joined an open source project on codeplex. I had this idea to create an application that would sync a Google calendar with a Pocket PC’s Outlook Calendar. Then I was searching around to see whether there were similar applications around and came across GMobileSync which was an open source project on http://www.codeplex.com.

I requested the project’s coordinator to accept me as a developer and I was accepted. Then I took it upon me to fix a few of the bugs that were reported on the bug list. Then Eric, who is the creator of GMobileSync, told me that if I fixed two way sync, which is the most requested feature I will become the ‘hero’ of the GMobileSync world! That prompted me to put in my free-time towards fixing this issue / feature and last weekend, I managed to fix that. I made a release to codeplex and Eric has since released it to about 500 beta testers. And now I am awaiting for beta test results and keeping my fingers crossed that there wont be any bugs!

Working on an open source project has been pretty exiting. For one Open Source projects will give you the largest audience for your applications. Already the release I did has had 88 downloads for the space of one week. All this time the release was not even public. It was the beta testers who were invited to download and test. Hopefully the number will go up once the release becomes public.

GMobileSync has had about 40,000 downloads. Even if 10% were actively using the application, then that would mean 4000 people. You know it feels good to have an application where there is some little contribution of yours, being used by so many people. The difference in the open source world is that people will be appreciative about your work, unlike in commercial software. In commercial software, since they pay for the software, they tend not to show their appreciation!

If you had been looking for a tool that would sync your Google Calendar with your Windows Mobile device, then give GMobileSync 1.3.5 a try! And feel free to let us know your ideas for improvements or bugs!

Finally, thanks to Eric for accepting me into the project and letting me contribute. And to Lushi for tolerating my coding sessions that went into late in to the night 🙂

If you are an iPaq user running Windows Mobile 2003 / SE and if your PDA gets stuck when you try to delete a file from the HP File Store folder, it is a known issue that is prevelant for many iPaq’s running WM 2003. I have tried ROM upgrades and the like and it never solved my problem. I kind of got used to living with it, it meant that I had to have the same set of songs in my file store, but since I am not much of a musical freak, I let it be.

But the problem became a headache when I tried to synchronize the PDA with a Vista computer. I downloaded the Windows Sync Centre and when it was trying to connect to my PDA, it got stuck and there was no proceeding from that point. After dabbling with it for one full day, I realized the problem was conencted to the File Store getting stuck. So I started my quest for the search for a fix.

That search led me to RICOUK’s article on the File Store Fix. And it worked like a charm. The instructions were spot on. Now my PDA is in Sync with my Laptop running Vista! The only thing is you have to figure out which option is ‘Delete’ in German!

Here is something I just discovered on Vista. I find this pretty big brotherly type of an acting, for a change, from Google.

When you install Google Toolbar on IE on Vista, Google changes the default search provider from Live Search to Google. Now the funny part is I can’t recall the installation ever asking em whether I wanted to change this setting.

Upon noticing this, I wanted to change the default search setting on IE back to Live Search, as there is a search box on the Google toolbar itself, and I wanted to have the option to do searches on both search engines, without having to go to their sites. This is where the Google arrogance comes into play.

Although, I go to Change Search Defaults and set Live Search as my default, it does NOT get changed. Google tries to be a big brother and just loads a small icon to the notifications area on the task bar. This icon just gets loaded and never even bothers to give an indication / notification as to why it got loaded. When you click on it it gives a message like, ‘ somebody wants to change away from Google as your search provider blah blah’ So to change it you have to allow it do happen from within this option.

I am a great fan of Google’s products. But I really don’t like it when they think they know what is best for it. It was them who went to legislators complaining, that MS is making it difficult for users to switch Search Providers. But from this experience, I think they too are trying to make is as difficult as possible for users to switch away from Google.

Ironic!