Category Archives: Tech

OMG! I’m Asuka!

All day I’ve been working on my first Ruby On Rails project. Not out of any trendiness or pure curiousity, though I have been very curious, but out of dogged determination and desperation. I have a project that needs to get done fast, and the initial way I started out just wasn’t going to work for the clients. Indeed, I’ve had to change my whole way of thinking about the problem. Anyway, I think it’s going to work, so I’m very happy and excited about it!

Also today, my cable modem and installation kit came! Yippeee! No more slow and often unreliable *cough*SBC*cough* DSL. Today was a really bad DSL day, I just kept getting dropped over and over, then as if in answer to prayer, the bell rang and behold, UPS with my package. I had prepared my cable arrangement yesterday, so once I configured the software and setup the Comcast account on my main PC to be sure that everything worked, I just had to clone the PC MAC address to my router. It’s all working quite well right now. Double Happieness!

So, feeling good and recalling a “what Evangelion character are you?” discussion with my spouse, I decided to see if there were any of those whimsical online exams around. I answered the questions as best I could and was a bit surprised at the result. I thought I might get a Shinji or Rei, but hey, it’s just fun!

Which Evangelion character are you?

Open Source Support Network

Over on Slashdot today, a minor flame war has erupted over whose linux distribution is better in Will Novell’s Desktop Linux Catch On. The usual assertions that you need a company to provide full support behind a distribution, like Redhat or Novell, have been raised. And in particular, some felt that Ubuntu had no chance because it doesn’t have some big sponsoring company or an enterprise edition with paid support. This got me to thinking that just having internet forums and IRC channels is not going to be enough for open source software support if it is to get into the hands of “ordinary” people and gain mindshare from Windows and its applications. There really needs to be an Open Source Support Network.

The Open Source Support Network would consist of volunteers around the world who would take shifts fielding email, instant messages, and (gasp!) phone calls from people who need help with open source applications and Linux. This would essentially be a free, worldwide call center that Jane, Joe, Huang, and Hakim User could call to get help with OpenOffice, Linux, and other open source apps.

Of course, talk is cheap and such an undertaking would first require a well thought out organizational structure and a deep enough pool of knowledgeable volunteers to operate 24/7/365, and of course, money. But I don’t really think it would be too much beyond the kind of effort that has gone into the Mozilla, and Apache foundations to name a couple. Such a support organization could finally put to rest the often raised criticism that nobody is really supporting open source software by giving people a number to call when they need help. And as a bonus, the building of such a support network would probably advance the art of customer technical support itself which would benefit everyone.

A guy can dream, right?

iPod Battery Replaced!

Yesterday I successfully replaced the battery in my aging 3rd generation iPod. I bought the replacement battery and installation kit from Other World Computing and let me say right now that THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART OR WEAK OF HANDS! I say that because, just as the instructions warn, opening the iPod case is very difficult and you will fail many times before succeeding. Once inside, you’d better have two things, one, rock solid confidence in your mechanical skills, and two be ready to buy a new iPod if you fail or slip! The last thing I’d say is make sure you print out the instructions from the web site because the bundled instructions are really too small to read.

In the end, all went well and my little 10GB pod now has a new lease on life! So am I 1337 yet?

Sony To Bundle UMDs With DVDs

Sony announced that they are going to bundle UMDs with DVDs for some movie releases. WoooHooo! This is pretty good news for PSP owners, like me, who don’t want to buy the same movie twice or go through the hassle of ripping to the PC in order to write the movie to the PSP memory stick. I’m glad that Sony is bit by bit making life a little easier for PSP users. So soon, it will be even easier for me to sneak off take a little break from the kids for some portable cinematic fun! Now if Sony could only create something equivalent to iTMS for the PSP that’s just as easy to use, then we’d really have something to write about.

Fear of Norton GoBack

If you use a computer regularly, then you know that there are few things more fearful than the sound of nearly constant hard drive access, even when nothing else is being done on the computer. To make a long story short, Norton GoBack was the culprit. After I removed it from my wife’s computer, the constant hard drive access (and the noise of it) were gone. This is actually the second time I’ve been burned by GoBack, I won’t be burned again!

Fear of Linksys Products

After wrestling with my daughter’s laptop wireless access today and having had long battles with the TiVo network access and the other kid PC, I’ve come to the conclusion that my Linksys WAP11 sucks! It seems to be locking up randomly requiring a reset or power cycle. It’s about 3 years old, but has really only been getting real use the last year. This is really sad, Linksys used to be a brand you could depend on, but clearly this has changed. And it would seem that I’m not the only one who thinks this.

Linksys WAP11: Worst Access Point Ever

I also had trouble with a Linksys wireless PCI card fresh out of the box a few months ago. I ended up returning it and getting some noname brand from a Taiwanese company which worked without a single hiccup. I wonder if they make access points too?

I Love U Live Linux!

Live Linux CDs have been out for a few years now, but it still amazes me what you can do with this great tool. Today I had a situation where my main computer had no OS and a colleague had some difficulties with the laptop on which she was planning to run her PowerPoint presentation. A good solution to this was not at hand and in the end she just did the presentation from printed handouts. Even though it was, practically speaking too late, I wanted to see if I could boot my half dead laptop from Ubuntu Live and then use OpenOffice to read a PowerPoint file from my USB memory stick. Amazingly it worked!

I’m sure there are many out there who are not surprised by this, still, taking a machine that is mostly useless in its current state and getting some utility out of it is pretty cool to me. More to the point, these live Linux CDs are incredibly subversive! I say subversive because while I’m sure that the folks at Microsoft could create a live Windows CD, they never would because it undercuts the way they make money. I can make as many live Linux CDs as I like and use them on as many computers as I like without paying a cent for the privilege. Microsoft, however could not have people running around with CDs packed with Windows XP and Office using them on whichever machine they wanted to. Even if people paid full price for the CD and its software, the portability would just kill Microsoft’s revenue stream or at least seriously threaten it. That’s because Microsoft and other companies still depend on people buying new software when they buy new computers. Live CDs would make it too easy to just keep using what you’ve got on a new machine.

Admittedly, most folks would probably keep doing the same thing even if Microsoft did create Live Windows XP and Office CDs. But they aren’t likely to take a chance. Now there may be Live Windows XP CDs in the wild, but of course it is totally illegal to distribute them, but with such offerings on the Linux side of the fence, why bother?

Intel Based Apples, Mo Money, Mo Money!

Yesterday Steve Jobs announced that the new Intel based Macs would start shipping this month, nearly 6 months earlier than previously expected. Jobs claimed that the new Macs are 2 to 3 times faster than the current generation of Macintosh computers. And at a starting price of about $1300, it looks like the new Macs will be no bargain.

It shouldn’t be any surprise that the Intel based Macs will still command the price premium that has always been associated with Macs. You can bet that in addition to greater performance, Apple is probably getting cpus from Intel at a lower cost than they were from IBM. Even a small per cpu savings would mean much larger profits for Apple on each computer if retail prices remained the same. They can hawk greater performance for the same cost to the Mac faithful. And in what is really the only thing that surprised me a bit, the new Macs will be free to run Microsoft Windows if people want to. I doubt many will chuck Mac OS X for Windows, but some may want to set it up as a dual boot option. The Intel based Macs then become an option for anyone who needs/wants to run the variety of other OSs that currently run on Intel based PCs. It should be easier to code Windows emulators for OS X now that the underlying hardware is Windows compatible too.

So, lower costs, plus same retail prices, plus some new customers, equal mo money mo money mo money for Apple! No wonder Steve Jobs is smiling.

Sony’s PSP Media Plans

I’m glad to hear that Sony is planning to make more media available for the PSP and easy to download via Sony Connect which they plan to relaunch. Lately, I’ve been discovering just how useful that big portable display really is…by sneaking off to other parts of the apartment to watch videos unmolested by my siu pung yao*. And while laid up sick today, I used its wireless connectivity and web browser to read the news in bed.

I only hope that Sony isn’t planning to charge us money to make using the PSP easier they way they have with the PSP Media Manager. Apple has already done pretty well without charging me a cent for iTunes. I hope Sony will follow this example.

*siu pung yao: Cantonese, kids, literally little friend (aka, shorties)

Mass CIO Resigns Over OpenDocument

In another fine example of why tax money is wasted and government generally does not work, the Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn has resigned amid the controversy over a planned move to the OpenDocument format for state documents. Mr. Quinn’s primary sin appears to have been the audacity to choose an open document format, that Microsoft has adamantly refused to support, so far. OpenDocument would ultimately save the state a great deal of money and ensure that public documents would always to accessible to the public rather than locked away in a single vendor’s proprietary format. Sounds like a pretty smart idea to me.

There is no technical reason that Microsoft could not support OpenDocument. But rather than play nice, it appears that the political dogs were sicked on Mr. Quinn instead. So once again, government makes it clear that smart, thinking people will be quickly forced out of having anything to do with promoting the public good. With Quinn out of the picture, I won’t be surprised if OpenDocument in Massachusetts quickly disappears from the scene too. Money well spent by Microsoft lobbyists.

First Laptop, Sniff Sniff

No no no no! I’m not old enough for this yet! Nah, I’m not a grand dad yet, but my oldest daughter on the verge of teenagerdom saved up enough money for her first laptop computer. I ordered a Dell B120 for her yesterday and now I reflect on how time has passed, sniff sniff… I’m rather impressed, though perhaps not surprised. Even as a baby, she had the uncanny ability to find money. She could find a penny in an open field from a 100 meters away easily. So I’m not too surprised that she was able to squirrel away her allowance and babysitting money to buy a computer. Her younger brother, well that’s another story, he spends whatever he gets! LOL!

Now I’ve got to tweak the home wireless setup a bit and make sure we’re all clear on computer usage rules. She’s a good kid though, so there probably won’t be any trouble. At least she won’t be spending hours on display computers in Radio Shack like I did as a kid. I can still see the flashing *cload as I prayed that the program would load from cassette, this time…shudder shudder…

Lucky kid!

Playing DVD Movies On Ubuntu

After several weeks of trying and Googling, I finally got DVD movies to play on my Ubuntu box! Like some crazy voodoo, I’m not entirely sure what incantation finally got things to work, but so that others may benefit, I record it here.

Initially I had Xine-ui, totem-xine, and libdvdcss installed and I thought that was all that I needed. But whenever I tried to play one of my movie DVDs, Xine and totem would act as if they couldn’t even find libdvdcss at all.

Thinking that there was something wrong with the movie players, I decided to try VLC. That didn’t work for me either, but that may have been because I couldn’t figure out how to start it, duh. Before figuring that out I took a look at the Ubuntu Wiki’s Restricted Formats page. On that page I found more information and a link to the w32 codecs. Since I run into a lot of Windows format media files, I figured these codecs would be useful.

After installing the w32 codecs, lo and behold, I could play DVD movies in Xine and Totem! At this point I didn’t even try to figure out VLC because I was happy to finally get what I wanted!

From the above, I’m guessing that I needed both libdvdcss and w32codecs to make it all work, which had not at all been clear from everything else I had read previously, again duh. But I also wonder if VLC brought something extra to the party that sealed the deal. Eventually I may do some experimenting to find out, but for now I’ve got one more Revolutionary Girl Utena disc to finish watching!

Windows Cleaning

Since I started using Ubuntu Linux a few weeks ago, my Windows XP installation has fallen into a sad state of disrepair. Like many who install a Linux partition, I’ve found myself wanting to do all of my work (and fun) there. Unfortunately, there are a few tools that I must still use Windows for, such as Dreamweaver. I haven’t found a good Linux replacement for DW yet (Nvu doesn’t do the trick for me), so for serious site work I have to boot Windows. Well after losing about 20 minutes of work due to a spontaneous reboot, I was pretty pissed with Windows. So I did what many Windows users do, started scanning and cleaning like mad. Me and Norton got reaquainted and turned up one trojan along with numerous registry errors and broken shortcuts. Ugh. I really hate using Windows these days…