Saturday, July 21, 2007

Gear Envy

After dilly-dallying for the longest time, I finally bought an advanced digital camera last November on installment. It helped big time that there's zero interest on the payments. It is a Canon PowerShot S3 IS. It has lots of features I haven't fully explored yet. I'm still doing the monthly installments when just recently, the S5 IS was announced. So what's a guy to do? Fall into gear envy, of course. The new model now has a flash hot shoe, just as I am feeling the limits of my camera's built-in flash. The S5 has a 3-inch LCD screen against my camera's 2.5-incher. You get the idea.

I have to restrain myself and be reasonable, just like how grown ups deal with situations like this. It was to be expected. New models come out every month. I remember the first camera I bought. It was another Canon, the original Elph/IXUS. The APS film format is coming out strong then and it seemed promising. I was not enjoying filing 35mm negatives and thought APS will help me get organized. Well, you can judge its success by the number of people who still remember what APS is.

Anyway, when I bought my Canon Elph, it was so new and chic and fashionable some Hollywood celebrities were being caught in public clutching or using one of their own. I had my own short period of fame while taking shots and people would get amazed at how small and beautiful it was. I never got my celebrity status though. LOL

After a few weeks, the Canon Elph 370Z/IXUS Z70 came out. It had a longer zoom. The pop-out flash looked sturdier. Needless to say, I had gear envy.

It was not exactly a happy ending with my Canon Elph. I definitely had some fun with it, not to mention some memorable shots. I still have it but now, it doesn't have a lens cover. It was malfunctioning and replacing it meant replacing the entire lens assembly. Losing the retractable lens cover was more practical. I would be hard pressed to find film for it now and I always hated the weakling CR2 battery it used. Thank goodness for digital.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Backups and Archives

Where is all your digital stuff? They are likely everywhere: in your office computer, in your home computer, on your laptop, cell phone, PDA, MP3 player, digital camera, memory cards, thumb drives, CDs, DVDs, and portable hard drives. Not to mention on servers all over the Internet, from free email sites to online storage services. Making a backup of all this stuff suddenly became easier. With the dilemma of how to get started organizing and collecting all that stuff, might as well give up. So easy, it's effortless.

But suppose, by some concurrence of events, maybe the alignment of the planets, all of your stuff were present in your home computer's hard drive. Let's not go into how they were able to all fit in there but rather what to do now? Making a backup of all the files should be a straightforward task. Burn them all onto DVD-Rs. Copy all of them onto another hard drive.

The thing is, a hard drive can crash or will inevitably reach its end of life at some point. DVDs get scratched or deteriorate after several years. Hardware become obsolete. Just a few years ago, it seemed like everyone was using Zip disks. And floppy diskettes! Don't tell me you forgot about them already. If you want your backups to be usable and readable 50 years from now, things don't seem to be straightforward anymore.

If you really want to go into the best practices for archiving, I think it will take a master's degree in Library Science for that. There is a great resource from the Library of Congress web site on what you can personally do. It's part of their Digital Preservation initiative.

Today's CDs and DVDs will be part of nostalgia in the future like LPs and 8-tracks are today. For anyone who would want to preserve their data indefinitely, like me, it will have to be perpetually making backups plus backups of backups. And when a winner comes out of the Blu-ray vs. HD DVD rivalry, we'll have to make backups on that too.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Total Cost of Ownership

Buying a new computer (or at least thinking about it) has got me musing again about how we really own our machines. They're called personal computers and they really are. But how much of it do you really own? Sure, after you purchase it and making it feel at home, you have a great sense of ownership. It's yours, all yours. The thing is, you can't really make 100% use of it.

OK, Windows takes up a chunk of the hard disk, RAM, and CPU. That's a given. It's the operating system, after all. Although there's a lot of Windows components running you usually don't need that you'll have to disable yourself.

Windows isn't the only thing installed on your new computer. The manufacturer will have loaded it with various kinds of trial software and other offers. If you're not conscious about these, they'll be running or just sitting there on your computer, taking up resources even if you don't need them.

To be a responsible netizen, you need to secure it with a firewall, antivirus, at least a couple of anti-spyware and maybe phishing and spam filtering software. If you do enough research, you'll be able to find free and decent software you can simply download from the great Internet cloud. After installing, these security software will have to run every waking moment of your beloved computer.

So, do you really own 100% of your very own, very personal computer? Even if you wanted to, you'll be hard pressed at best to be able to use 100% of the CPU cycles. Same thing with RAM and disk space. Ok, maybe you can use a barebones Linux build. But then, you can't play Starcraft with it.

When you were shopping for your computer, you might have thought "Hey, this CPU is 5% faster than this one." But have you thought about 5% of your CPU's computing resources being devoted your antivirus software for the rest of your computer's life? I'm just guesstimating that 5% for antivirus thing but you get the idea. Who knows? Maybe it's accurate.

We've all taken to accepting all these as part and parcel of today's computing. The way things are today, with Windows in particular, it's necessary. If only there was a totally secure system, we won't need security software. Makes me think about OS X and Linux. They're getting attractive but there are a lot of situations that require working with Windows. Like that dreaded W word (hint: Work). Besides, even OS X and the Linux distributions are not totally secure either. And since there's no totally secure system, we have to live with personal security software. The consequence is we have lost maybe 10% or 20% of computing resources. Alright, so maybe we own 100% of our PC. Only, we can't make use of 100% of it, even if we wanted to. How's that for ownership?

Monday, June 25, 2007

Need a new computer

My desktop will be turning 5 years old in a few months. Pretty soon, I'll have to send it off to kindergarten. Time flies so fast. It seems just yesterday when it was a shiny, fast, happy machine. Now, it's full to the brim with data, its registry littered with so much left-overs from programs I've already forgotten and it loads so many unidentifiable stuff at start up that you can make breakfast before it can finish the boot process. Not only am I running against the 512 MB of RAM installed, I have a nagging feeling there's something physically defective with it. And of course, with its number of years in service, the hard disk could retire any time soon. It could have a useful life of several months or several years more but it doesn't have a way of letting me know.

So, it needs a replacement soon. What a joyous conundrum it is, choosing and shopping for a new computer! If only it didn't have the prerequisite of having the money to afford one. There's no such thing as spare cash in my situation. The hundreds and thousands are all accounted for and they're answerable to the monthly budget.

Maybe I can just pretend it's still the shiny, fast new computer that it once was! Yes, that's it! Ha ha ha.... Nope, it doesn't work.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Apple Safari

I haven't tried it yet but soon. So what's the big deal about another web browser for Windows users? My take on this is... none really. Firefox is more than competent and version 3.0 is shaping up nicely. If there was no iPhone, there would be no Windows version of Safari. Some analysts say Apple is enticing users to come over to the Mac side of the fence. Maybe, but I think that's incidental. Sure, it can happen but the real deal right now is iPhone. The only way to develop apps for the iPhone is through Safari so that's where the action will be, if Apple gets its way.

Apple claims there have been 1 million downloads for the first 48 hours after its release. I say that's a victory for choice. Now, if only Apple will lower the prices of Macs....

Blogging, blogging

Work sure gets in the way of fun. :) For the past months, work has been so heavy there's been little time for anything else. Work gets in the way of living? Hmmm... could be more appropriate.... Anyway, I'm just glad to be able to make new entries in my blog.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Here's an interesting article: Vista UI Is a 'Step Back' for Microsoft

For a moment, I thought someone must have an odd job measuring "the fluidity and/or reactivity of an operating system to commands." But then again, the time it takes from clicking on a menu to when it completely appears is measurable. It's just I haven't heard of someone actually having done it. Anyway, to be able to support statements like these, you have to have the timings and compared it with XP.

Here's the interesting conclusion. The eye candy that is Aero (new UI for Vista) is actually worse than Luna (new UI for XP when it came out) in terms of wasting time - in the 3 benchmarks measured - menu latency: 20% slower; common desktop tasks (opening a folder, deleting files, etc.): 14% slower; mouse precision: 30% worse.

The article did not mention XP had its own ways of wasting time for the sake of making things look "nicer." I have turned these off, namely the fade effect/scroll effect for menus and tooltips and the shadows under menus. They may add only a fraction of a second to the act of showing a menu but with an aging computer, with loads of crud in the background, the effect is more pronounced. It turns out the latency in Aero will be even more - 20% more.

I know these things are probably not that significant in the grand scheme of things. Vista is such a huge beast that quibbles like these can easily get lost in the discussion. But it should have been addressed. After all, Microsoft spent billions of dollars and 5 years to develop it. I was hoping to Vista will fix simple everyday XP irritations like spending forever to show the contents under Start-All Programs or the interminable wait for the context menu to appear when I do a right click in Windows Explorer just so I can create a new folder.

I was considering Vista for when the time comes to get a new PC. But things are getting stacked against it. Higher cost, higher power consumption with Aero, incompatibility with my software and peripherals, etc. And now this. Maybe I can still find a vendor who sells XP OEM with a Vista upgrade coupon.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

I can't believe it's been some time since my last entry. So much has happened since.

One of the big news is the Windows Vista launch. Of course, this is somewhat anticlimactic. People have been beta testing it for so long and we read about it everyday on the web and in magazines for the past months. In fact, after reading too much, I think I have a good idea about using Vista for everyday computing. But before getting too much ahead, here are my major gripes. I have more but these are really annoying:

- Vista demands extravagant system requirements. Now, I understand that running a more capable, more modern operating system will require the appropriate hardware, which should be more powerful, as a consequence. And I'm prepared for that. In fact, I can wait and save up for the new hardware if it's necessary. But the question is, what does Vista do that justify the hardware it requires? Aero? IE7? Building indexes for the new search feature? Making it more secure with a new firewall and spyware? That's it? All of these things can be done by my current computer running XP and select freeware apps. Having the eye candy that is Aero is the biggest draw for most. After all, having a beautiful, new interface will always get people's attention. But that alone will not justify the cost of the new and more demanding hardware.

- Suppose you bought a new computer with Vista. You can not make 100% use of that new, superfast, dual-core processor and 2 GB of RAM. This is a gripe I have not just of Vista, but of Windows in general. Windows will take some overhead, that's for sure, and that's a given, especially with Vista. By the way, do you know (or need) all of those services Windows installed and have running in the background? But beyond these are the antivirus, firewall, and the collection of anti-spyware you will need to have peace of mind before plugging in online. Why is this a gripe? This is something every responsible computer user should have, right? Not really if Windows is more secure than it is. Apple is trumpeting zero viruses on OS X in their ads -- on TV. If that's not inviting virus, trojan, or worm attacks, I don't know what is. That's confidence in security.

- If you have a program, don't expect it to work with Vista. This is particularly true with antivirus and firewall software. But if you have applications you depend on, make doubly sure it will work on Vista. Else, it's back to spending some more for new versions.

- Aero will use up more power. This isn't nitpicking. Those new video cards that Aero requires will consume a lot more power than what your previous computers did. Even if you already had a powerful video card before, and were using it for heavy duty 3D gaming, you were only drawing more power while playing. With Aero, you are doing full 3D all the time. Even when you're only typing in Notepad.

I won't complain about device drivers. Microsoft has done pretty well in creating built-in drivers for a lot of devices. But it can not be expected to account for each and every device ever made, old and new, and have Vista drivers for these. That doesn't help if you have hardware that won't work with Vista. For me, I think I'll wait a while and see.

The fact that there were no long lines of people outside of stores for sales to start at midnight has a big symbolic meaning. Vista is not a must have. It's a nice to have. For now.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wahoooo! Just got myself a Maxtor Personal Storage 3100 external USB hard drive. It's not the latest and the greatest but it gives me an additional 200 GB storage space. This is a big deal for me because my PC's hard drive is only 80 GB and I'm always agonizing what to delete. It's getting tedious to burn files off to DVD-R and deleting them from the hard drive. Looking for files from stacks of discs is not fun either.

I was looking for the 3200 model which has 300 GB but they didn't have it. The Maxtor OneTouch III models are too expensive. So why not just buy another internal hard drive to add more storage at a cheaper price? I plan to use the extra space not only for storing more stuff but also for making backups. Having it external will save my files even if my PC gets fried. I hope it doesn't happen but having nearline backup is very convenient.

I look forward to the day when I can finally replace my 4 year old PC. It still works but it's getting sluggish. A clean Windows reinstall can fix that but I'm suspecting the RAM or something else on the motherboard is malfunctioning. There were some recent incidents where there were inexplicable BSODs. Anyway, when that day comes, hopefully, the replacement is a Core 2 Duo. I can simply plug in my external hard drive into the USB port of the brand spanking new PC and all my precious data are ready for the transfer.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Firefox 2.0 vs. IE7

OK, new major web browsers back-to-back launch. Of course, comparisons are in order. On the surface, both look attractive. I like IE7's thumbnail preview of open tabs better than Firefox's text list. On the other hand, Firefox's Undo Close Tab and Session Restore have saved me a lot of grief already. On the security side, Firefox wins hands down. Just refusing ActiveX is one big security boost. Both have anti-phishing but only time will tell which is doing a better job over the other.
Who needs Internet Explorer 7? Firefox 2.0 is officially out and I'm already using it but I'm still installing IE7. Internet Explorer has got too many hooks within Windows XP that it's impossible to uninstall it without breaking something. Even if I'm not using IE for web surfing, XP still needs it. Besides, there are web sites that simply will not work with other browsers. Might as well update IE to version 7 to make it more secure though it's obviously not totally secure.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Mozilla Firefox 2.0 will be out soon. I'm using Release Candidate 3 and it looks good. I like the close button on each tab. I'm not timing it but it feels just as fast as version 1.5. What's very interesting is Undo Close Tab. It's found by right-clicking on the tabs bar. Why? Because it's a time saver compared to hunting for a web site from the history list. It's also useful because of my mouse. Huh? What's a mouse got to do with browser history? My cordless optical mouse has been acting up lately. It's sometimes doing a double-click in place of a single click. So instead of just closing one tab, it closes two. Instead of closing one window, it closes two. Aaaaarrrrggghhhhhh!!! While you're at it, why don't you shut down Windows too? Wait, don't do that!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Alright, already! Everyone and his neighbor and their pets have blogs and I have been intending to do this for a long time so no more excuses! So there. Now what do I put in here?