Category: Hardware

Windows 8 – Where have I seen that Metro widget panel before?

So, my wifes’ computer crashed, with a completely trashed system volume, and no sign whatsoever of the Windows7 install media or activation key to resuscitate it. But What I did have on had was the Windows 8 Developer Preview. Free and not due to expire until late 2012.
So I stuck in the DVD and rebuilt the computer with this.
Then after playing with it for a little while, it struck me as to why pulling up the metro panel flt familiar.
OS X Lion moved all of its widgets into a widget desktop panel. You access it with a multi finger swipe on the mouse or track pad, and are taken to a sinlge screen with small widgets. I have mine showing me weather, the time in a couple of foreign cities where I have frends I occasionally skype with, a widget shiny what is playing on iTunes, and the lyrics, and sometime I setup small browser windows here too.
Then I looked at what was on the Windows 8 Metro screen. Most of the active tiles were just like the widgets in OSX. Some launched other full screen apps of course, and obviously those were optimized for touch (I also noticed just like on iOS, when backgrounded, most suspended themselves as indicated in task manager)
So neat, still faster than Windows 7, but nothing new here, move along. Just square, blue tiles instead of much better looking and useful, and well developed (after all they have been around for a few years) OS X widgets.


OSX Dashboard

Windows 8 Metro

Windows 8 Metro





iPad Keyboard – do you really need one?

Well, here I sit at Verve Cafe in Wellington doing something I find too cumbersome with the virtual keyboard on my iPad, typing a longer post into my wordpress blog. So what has changed? I got a cheap bluetooth keyboard.

I have resisted buying a keyboard for the iPad until now for a couple of reasons.
1: The Apple BT keyboard is pretty expensive at NZ$130
2: I didn’t really think I needed one.

I found a cheap chinese knock-off keyboard at my local computer shop, Quay Computers on Lambton Quay for $75. Expensive for a non-brand keyboard, but this is one of the better clones I have seen. The feel is very similar to Apples keyboard, only slightly rattlier, but as I use it it is bedding in quite nicely. It is completely plastic, so it flexes a little but it has good rubber feet and is weighty enough that it doesn’t slide around the table at all. It is actually quite pleasant to use. Also for the price, I dont mind just chucking it in my folio I use to carry around my iPad. After all, I don’t put much paper in there anymore thanks to the iPad 8)

Also as a proper BT keyboard, it can also do double duty with my laptop but it then does suffer some issues with not having a delete key, the escape is a padlock, and does not seem to act as the ESC key, but does have the advantage of being much lighter than the MS keyboard work gave me.

2 iPad, or not 2 iPad

The iPad 2 has now been launched, a million of them have been bought by happy faced Americans, and probably a million more are being shipped as I type this.
In a few days, we should be able to order them here in New Zealand.
I want one, but do I need one?
I am very happy with my iphone4, and that is actually why I never got an original iPad. The iPhone actually felt faster to use in many cases, is much more portable, and has an awesome screen for a little gadget.
I can also justify using it for work, so spending $1000 on a phone can be justified as it makes my working life just a little more pleasant.
The iPad though can’t do everything my 4 year old work provided laptop can do. It can get close, but with no proper USB port I can’t connect to switches to configure them, and not all my clients will let me use their wifi, so I’d have to have the 3G one, and pay for another data connection.
I also want to upgrade my old Mac mini as I am starting to find editing 720p video quite painful.
Now the iPad 2 and iOS 4.3 fix some of those problems.
I can do wifi hotspot on the iPhone, so I can get the wifi only iPad, and iTunes homeshare streaming means I don’t need the largest capacity one. So I can justify getting the 16GB wifi only and not feel I am missing out.
The kids are old enough now that they want to web browse, and the lack of flash on the iPad is actually an advantage here. Not so many unsavory ads, and tons of games. Also if I buy it for myself, and not for work, I can jailbreak it and really go to town on it. I want to get back into coding for it, but I don’t want to have to pay $200 for the joy of running the code on my own damn device. I remember having heaps of fun with my old zx spectrum when my father bought that, and the iPad could be a family computer in a way my desktop can’t be because, again, I need that for work.
So as long as I realise I am buying this as a luxury toy, I can justify it to myself. I just need to convince my wife that we actually NEED it though to liberate $800 from the family budget to buy it. 8)

Cheap MiFi

OK, so I really am a cheap bugger sometimes, but what annoys me is that I pay NZ$90 a month for my cell phone plan, and I get 3GB of data on it, but I usually only use about 250MB or maybe even 300MB on a bad month mainly because most of the places I go also have pervasive wifi. So I waste 2.5 GB of data I’ve paid for on my 3G connection. I can’t just buy a MiFi or another 3G USB modem and hook it up to my cell phone plan, they all want extra money as they wont share my phone data plan.

So, how to make the most of my 3G connection? I need to make my own MiFi!

What you Need:

iPhone (or similar) on a plan allowing tethering.

Laptop with bluetooth and Wifi, (mine runs Linux Mint 9)

Other wifi clients wanting to use the connection.

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iOS 4.2 is here, available NOW!!

So my iOS gadget stash runs like this:

My phone is an iPhone4, 32GB, and is about 75% full, running 4.1. I bought this as an update to my 3G, which I gave to my lovely wife Lynelle, who was otherwise quite happy with her Nokia dumb-phone, but it was falling apart.

Now she to is a smartphone fan, even though she only uses the home Wifi for Data 8)

So anyway, 4.1 fixed a lot of glitches with iOS 4.0 on the 3G, and every indication is the preformance is even more improved with 4.2, So I will definately upgrade the 3G. I like new shiny stuff, so I will also upgrade the iPhone4 once I am not on call.

Now a week later, I do the downloads for the iphone 4 from my Mac. First attempt, 15 mnutes to download the 500MB+ bundle, and… corrupt. Try again. Second download shows it to be over 600MB! WTF Apple!!!

Anyway, upgrade completed on the second go, and was the most pain free update apart from the huge download, twice! Come on Apple, bit torrents give me GigaBytes of … umm… LINUX OS downloads with no error, surely you can put some better error checking in your downloader in iTunes.

Features I use – Nothing that does Airplay – umm, performance seems the same, umm.. Oh, free Find my iPhone (or as Lynelle calls it, Find My Husband. Damn, she has my Apple ID for buying stuff for the phone.) That works as advertised.  So thats it. Off to try the 3G now.

Only 322MB download required for the 3G. Just have to find something else to do for 15 minutes…….Installing now. Only one download required.

iPhone 3G - update in progress...

iPhone 3G - update in progress...

Hey, 30 minutes later, and it’s updated. Seems to have worked fine. No errors at this stage, so I’ll just have to wait to see if Lynelle notices anything in general use.

The Magic of Mice

One thing that Apple really seem to have had problems designing is their mice. Really surprising seeing they have such a background in GUI computing systems where Windows, Icons, Mice and Pointers are so important.

The Mac Classic mouse was awful compared to its Microsoft mouse contemporary. And not to be proven wrong, Apple persisted with only having one button for quite a while. Then they caved.

Mu Rodents

From Left: Mighty Mouse, Magic Mouse, Apple Keyboard

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Ubuntu 10.04 NBR on Acer Aspire One

So I have in my hands an original Netbook, 1.6GHz Atom CPU, 8GB flash drive, 512MB RAM and 7″ LCD. This is a Netbook, not some small under powered laptop.

Ubuntu Netbook Remix  Launcher

Originally this came with a version of CentOS linux called LinpusLite. It should actually have been  called POS. Nothing really wrong with the basic apps, as long as you only wanted to do POP mail, and were happy with a basic web browser with no plugins, no flash, and no uptodate software repository. You really had to go to some lengths to unlock the console and get a full desktop. TO me it was what actually gives some OEM linux installs a bad name. It lasted about 2 days and was replaced when I couldn’t add support for a USB-Serial adapter or good support for Citrix, some of the libraries required just were not available in the Linpus repositories. I was able to add in some RedHat RPMs but it never really worked right. So I had an Ubuntu 8.04 install handy. This worked well, but the install was not simple. Some mucking around was requred to get all the drivers and hardware working, custom kernel to get the WiFi up.

So two years on and a new LTS (Long Term Support) version of Ubuntu is here. Is newer better? Is the performance improvements touted in 10.4 going to make much difference on really limited hardware? Is the boot time going to be anything close to the claimed aim of 10 seconds to logon? Is the hardware going to be supported?

Basically yes – the 10.04 Netbook remix I have installed here boots faster, runs faster, and takes less space than 8.04 did (The netbook remix was still very early in it’s  development for 8.04, so I was running regular desktop Ubuntu with Maximus and the launcher added on. Slightly buggy – I ended up not using the launcher.) and runs much smoother. Firefox in 8.04 stalled often as write performance my my Ones HDD is very poor. More details below:


Creating the USB stick for the install was simple, but I did it from another propper machine as it was faster that way. Download the NBR .iso file, and use Startup Disk Creator to copy the image onto a bootable USB stick.

Install took about 20 minutes (3 hours less than 8.04) and about another 40 minutes to patch after install.

I then installed Minicom (Terminal Emulator for Serial Port devices), Citrix Reciever, and Thunderbird. Added Xmarks to Firefox, and then started playing around in it.

First impressions:

Faster than 8.04, boots in about 30 seconds including logging in, and all the hardware apart from the onboard mic in works right out of the box.

Battery life is still good, i’m getting 4 hrs of browsing (using the 6 cell battery option) and wifi use, I haven’t yet seen how long it will last playing a movie.

Current role:

Citrix client, switch configuration client, and browser/email for when I want a bigger screen than my iPhone, but longer battery life and faster boot and better portability than my HP laptop.