Archive for the ‘Gizmos & Gadgets’ Category

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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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!

I am not a hacker. It is not something that appeals to me. I do not think I have got the patience or the motivation to keep hacking on something. I dont attempt to hack anything unless it is the last resource. And usually, I attempt to hack if the price for the original is way beyond my budget or if it is not available in its original form in Sri Lanka. Usually when you are trying to work with limited resources you are forced to hack out a few things. In the past few months I had to resort to hacking as I decided to work my hacking skills rather than spending money. And both these times I was hacking to use Apple tools.

The first instance was when I created a Hackintosh using my old desktop computer. I wanted to try out my hand at iPhone apps and was disspointed to learn that you can develop iPhone apps only on a Mac. Therefore I went on to create a hackintosh. But since then, I have been too busy with other projects and never got around to developing that iPhone app.

This  time around it was the iPhone. There are iPhone that are being sold in Sri Lanka but they are rather expensive. Actually I have a price range that I am comfortable paying for a phone. But the price for an iPhone in Sri Lanka is way above that price range. Therefore I resorted to buy a used iPhone from eBay through my SIL in UK. The phone I bought came with a Turbo SIM but unfortunately it had been upgraded to the latest iPhone OS version 2.2.1 with a baseband of 2.30, which made the turbo SIM useless. This basically made the iPhone to become an iPod which was not something I was ready to accept.

But with the help of excellent technical resources available on the Internet I managed to hack the phone; jailbreak it and also unlock it using software. It is currently running the latest iPhone OS with a baseband (modem software) version which is one version older than the latest. This shows the the power of the Internet. A complete non Apple Nerd, can basically jailbreak an iPhone on his own by Googling!

Oh and I found Bing (the latest search engine by MS) to be better in giving relevant results for search terms than Google. More on that later.

If anyone wants to know the exact steps on hacking the iPhone, let me know. I will write a post with what I did exactly. The simple reason for me not listing them here is because none of them are my original discoveries. I was just following instructions available on various discussion groups, blogs and forums. It should not be an issue for any one to find this information and at the same time they tend to slightly differ based on the phone model and the current software version you are running.

I have been an ardent and a loyal Windows Mobile user. There were several reasons for this loyalty. I come from a development background that is heavily biased towards Microsoft (read .NET). With this back ground I found it quite easy to develop a few applications for the Windows Mobile platform using .NETCF. So whenever I had the option to upgrade my mobile, I went for a Windows Mobile device.

But since I was given a Blackberry Curve in my current job I have fallen in love with the Blackberry. One of the facts that I love about it is the fact that the OS is more biased towards the usual phone style. Windows Mobile OS is more biased towards the usual computer navigation style.

And the other thing is it is definitely a lot better for Email on the GO. With Windows Mobile, you need to initiate an operation to check for new Mail. I know there are solutions to provide Push Email on Windows MObile as well, but these usually require special software and additional configurations to get them to work. At least I never could get Push Email to work on my earlier Windows Mobile device.

And the BB is a lot lighter and sleeker than most of the Windows Mobile devices. It is definitely aesthetically more pleasing than the Windows Mobile device I had and a hell of a lot lighter.

My next step is to port my mobile application development knowledge to the BB platform so I can write a few apps for the device. Most of the applications that were a bit hard to find for the Windows Mobile devices were easy to find for the BB. But still there are a few that I could not still find. So hopefully I will be able to fill that gap, starting off with the applications that I would like to have on my BB!

My only hope was that there was some kind of an emulator which allows to run .NETCF applications on the BB. Now that would be superb. That way, I wont have to learn java to write apps for my BB. Do you know of anything like that?

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!

I’m glad they make the laptops the way they do. They in that earlier sentence was Dell and I am referring to the fact that they make their laptops to endure a full cup of tea all over it!

Yes, it happened. I don’t know how it happened, but it did. I spilled a cup of tea all over my laptop yesterday and I thought that would have been the end of it. I promptly switched it off, dried it as much as I can using tissues and let it dry for only about 5 minutes. I had to switch it on, as I had an urgent email to send. At that point of time, sending the email was more urgent than drying the laptop.

It booted up, but the scratch pad was not working. I used a USB mouse and finished my tasks for the day and packed it brought it home. I switched it on again today, praying to god that it will boot up. Not only did it boot up, even the scratch pad seems to be working.

Better be careful now. I am not sure whether it will take on a another beating with another cup of tea!

Since I acquired a digital camera, I was getting a lot more pictures than I thought I would and was increasingly finding these pictures to be residing on my computer or burned to CD’s. Though I had browsed on Flickr I was not seriously considering an online photo sharing option till very recently.

I guess digital camera’s have transformed the way people communicate and record the events in their lives. Earlier, you would take a few carefully thought pictures, and then develop and print them and share them with those who visit you. not you capture the moment freely as digicams can take a whole lot of more pictures and most of the time, you don’t bother printing them. you just mail them to the people you want to share them with!

So I was looking around for an easier way to share the pictures rather than sending them across in emails and sharing them in instant chat sessions. But what I found was that most of the free services are pretty much basic and limiting. But in any case I thought of recording what my little research yielded:

Filckr – By far seems to be the favourite. But I found the limitation on the free service, well very much a limitation. Photo uploading seems to be taking ages and when I upload a few from my 7.1 MP camera, my monthly bandwidth quota is over!

Snapfish – Seems to be my best bet so far! I have not come across any storage or space limitation yet. Uploading is pretty intuitive. The only drawback seems to be in the urls they assign to albums.

PicasaWeb – I uninstalled the last Picasa version I had cos I could not see much use for that. But I installed the latest version when I read about the Picasa web. The most intuitive program and accompanying service I came across. But why am I not surprised? Guess we have come to expect such ease of usability from Google. the only hindrance is the 250 MB space limit Google has imposed on the free service. The only thing I don’t get though, when they give over 2 Gb free on the mail account, why cant they at least give that much on the Picasa account? At least allow us to share our mail box space with the Picasa web?

MS Live Spaces – Just created an account when I realized I could use the space to upload photos. Won’t be blogging there though. Will share more as I start to use it.

Webshots –  Had used this earlier. Seemed like a pretty good service apart from the commercials that they try to push to you. Should start using this more!

That’s about my experience with online photo sharing for the time being. I would like to hear some comments from those who are experts on these things. As I said in the beginning, i am pretty new to this whole thing.

I have a thing for Pens. Fountain pens to be more particular. So I had the habit of asking for a fountain pen whenever I got entitled to a present from my father, be it because I passed an exam, or for some achievement.

So this time when my wife wanted to buy me something special for my birthday, i naturally asked for a pen. And a pen she got! It was something I always wanted, but never bought cos of its price! She got me a Cross Century II fountain pen. And I, am a happy man. So now my collection has several Parkers, a Sheaffer, a Cross and a Waterman.

Thank you sweetie!