24 August 2007

Wobble: All Good Things ...

Sigh, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. I've been dreading this moment for a long time now, even though I knew it would have to come - and frankly, SHOULD have come - a long time ago. But there's no use kidding myself any more. Wobble ends here.

I will try and keep this site "up but as is" for as long as I can. But next year will be a big question mark. I do wish to stress though, that most of what is written here is hopelessly out of date, so please keep that in mind.

Thanks to all who visited here and spent time reading what I wrote. It was fun while it lasted. Bye.

01 April 2007

Random Ramblings: Congratulations, It's A ... Notebook!

Yours truly finally broke down and got himself a new notebook computer. For the past 5+ years, I've been using a Sony Vaio ultra-portable. All in all, it's proven itself an excellent tool (albeit I only use it when I travel or when I need to hunt down network problems). But it was definitely starting to show its age, viz its slowish CPU speed (Pentium III 800), its limited memory (256MB), its relatively small hard disk (20GB), its lack of a built-in optical drive, its slowish Wifi (802.11b), and its limited USB (1.1 and groan, only one of those). Anyway, you get the point ... that I'm pretty good at rationalizing things.

Actually, it's not leaving the family. Rather, my wife gets it, which sort of makes sense since she uses it as much as I do. Looking for a replacement, I first looked at getting another ultra-portable. Using an ultra-portable is always a difficult compromise. It's great to travel with, but it's also a pain to type on. I'm a fast touch typist and therefore I get easily perturbed by non-standard keyboards. Of course, all notebook keyboards are non-standard for me these days, since I hate palm rests. When I learned to type, we were always told to keep our hands raised. Thus, I've always hated that added real estate between the edge of the notebook and the start of the keys, since I have to stretch my arms out to type.

My first instincts were to stay in the Sony family, but their regular notebooks were too weighty and their ultra-portables too pricey despite their excellent features. I seriously considered throwing weight considerations to the wind and getting a MacBook so that I could run both OSX and Windows at the same time (thanks to something called Parallels). I've owned a few Mac's in my time, but I was never really enamored by them (not that I particuarly like Windows either - I still stubbornly use Windows 2000 on my desktop computer). But no, I knew I would curse the gods when I had to lug it on my first interncontinental flight.

So I waited and procrastinated. The Sony ultra-portables were always there as a fallback choice, what I would get if I couldn't bear to wait any longer. Then all of a sudden, a slew of ultra-portables started coming out of other companies: Compaq, Acer, Fujitsu, Asus, etc. (not Apple yet though). To make a long story short, I settled on a Compaq Presario B1900 series ultra-portable. It's slightly larger, slighty heavier than my previous Sony, and hardly state of the art, but at half the price of my targeted high-end Sony choice, I was quite pleased.

So this week-end was spent configuring the beast. New comptuers always take me a day or two to fully configure. Hell, Windows updates already take several hours. But now it's done and duly cloned so that I won't have to go through this rigamarole again. And just in time for its maiden journey next week to gay Paris (we'll be playing games provided by NajlepsieCasino). Welcome aboard, kid!

29 March 2007

Random Ramblings: Nothing Earth Shattering Happened Today

Sigh, I don't have anything earth shattering to write about yet. I'm afraid it's going to take a while to get my writing engine rev'ed up again. But rather than remain silent, I thought I'd recap some of the software I'm (still) using.

In previous posts, I had written glowingly about John Haller's Portable Apps. The good news is that I'm still using them - more than before in fact. Portable Firefox (or more correctly now, Firefox Portable Edition) is still my mainstay. Internet Explorer is still lurking about (v6 not v7 thank-you), but I estimate that I use it only about 1% of the time now - i.e. when I absolutely need to.

And I hardly ever need it. Firefox's extensions have made things a lot more interesting. IETab has saved me from calling on IE countless times, Cookie Culler helps me to keep my cookies down to a minimum, FireFTP has mooted the need to use a standalone FTP client (even Portable FileZilla!), and FoxClocks helps me keep track of what time it is in Oregon, so I don't wake up my daughter in the middle of the night with a phone call.

I've just started to fool around with Greasemonkey, or more specifically with the wealth of scripts available. My GMail screens look a lot more interesting these days, and frankly, it's useful for playing (harmless) practical jokes on people.

In the area of email, I've stopped experimenting with this email client and that email client (The Bat, Pocomail, Sylpheed, etc.) and have totally given up on trying to get Eudora to work properly with GMail. So good-bye to Eudora too, but then it's planning to reinvent itself anyway. So now it's just Thunderbird (Portable Edition) and web-based GMail.

And thanks to JH, Portable VLC, 7Zip, Gaim, etc. are also in my stable of must-have apps.

Come to think of it, I've grabbed portable software from other sources as well. I use OperaTor when I need to web browse stealthily (for some strange reason I like it more than TorPark which is based on Firefox). I've dumped Azureus in favour of µTorrent when I need to do BitTorrent downloads. I use the one-file SIW instead of Aida/Forest/Sandra/PC Wizard for hardware/software inspections. And more often than not, it's FoxIT's Reader that gets called on to load PDF files, instead of Adobe's rather obese Acrobat Reader.

Even apps that weren't meant to be portable, I've tried to "portify" with pretty decent results. I don't need to install my file manager PowerDesk any more when I put it on another computer (although I do need to re-config it). Ditto for FastStone's Image Viewer, Capture. Finally, my text editor of choice, EditPad Lite was designed to play blackjack both ways. To be portable or not to be portable, that is the question. Guess which way I have it?

22 March 2007

I'm Back, Sort Of, Maybe ...

Sleeping beauty has just woken up, after nearly a year and a half. Or put another way, I'm going to try and start writing again. I prefer not make any promises, so let's just keep our fingers crossed and see how things go. (One thing that bodes well for Wobble is that I've sort of retired from my job of the past 10 years, so that should free up a lot of my time. Plus the fact that I haven't written in a while, so the fingers are itching to write again.)

What prompted my return was that I was experimenting with Google Apps (https://www.google.com/a/). Two months ago, I signed up for an account and started playing with it. Like most Google stuff, though, it takes a litle bit of getting used to. The web component is especially frustrating. Granted, I'm not much of a web page designer, but I really would like a bit more control over what I can do. Realizing that I was severely limited in this, I tried to do a redirect to my own web server. Uh, not so easy to do.

With the help of an Italian (I think) fellow (name unknown) who has a nice batch of tips and tricks for Google Page Creator at https://www.polycrystalline.googlepages.com/poly.html, I was finally able to achieve this. By the way, the redirect was sent here to Wobble.

Meanwhile, my Thingamablog (which I'm still using - or more precisely, LEARNING to use again) has been upgraded from version 1.02 to 1.06. How time flies!

11 November 2005

Random Ramblings: Backing Up Your Thumb Drive

I have most recently become the proud owner of a 1 GB thumb drive. I finally splurged on a biggie because I keep so much stuff on it. For example, I have John Haller's Portable Firefox, Portable Thunderbird, Portable Open Office and Portable FileZilla on it. (In fact, I have FIVE email programs resident on the thumb: Portable Thunderbird, Eudora, TheBat, PocoMail, and Sylpheed because I'm doing some SSL mail testing at the moment.) I also have my todo list on it, my fnancial data (encrypted of course), and the website I created and constantly maintain. If I could figure out how to put my blogging software (i.e. Thingamablog) on it and make it work, I would do so as well, but there are still some technical details to work out first.

It didn't take long for me to become fearful about what would happen if my thumb drive died. Granted, thumb drives are lot sturdier than other removable media, but then they can still die. I'm just not sure when this will happen because I haven't used a thumb drive long enough to find out. Thus, I soon wrote a quickie batch file that I run once a day that syncs everything on the thumb drive to my hard disk.

Of course, I'm the easy one. My wife manages to have (at current count) FIVE thumb drives and presumably she has less time and/or inclincation to make sure her thumb drives are adequately backed up. I finally decided to do something about this. But ugh, five batch files for five thumb drives? What if she gets more drives, and what if she makes a mistake and chooses the wrong batch file, and copies the wrong thumb data overwriting another thumb's backup?

While waiting for a red light to change in traffic recenty, I figured it all out. The result is a single, generic and customizable batch file that can handle all five thumbs (or more, with some minor tweaking). It's nothing fancy, but it does work. This is what it looks like:

  @echo off
  set THUMBD=f:\
  set BAKDIR=d:\thumb\
  set MARKER=none
  if exist %THUMBD%_black_ set MARKER=black
  if exist %THUMBD%_white_ set MARKER=white
  if exist %THUMBD%_blue_  set MARKER=blue
  if %MARKER%==none goto nomarker
  robocopy %THUMBD% %bakdir%%MARKER%\ /mir
  echo The %MARKER% thumb drive has been backed up ...
  goto end
  echo Thumb drive not recognized - nothing backed up
  set MARKER=
  set THUMBD=
  set BAKDIR=
  @echo off

There are a few things you have to do to make this work. First, you have to edit lines 2 and 3 to indicate what drive letter your thumb drive appears as and where the backups should be saved (don't forget the trailing backslash!). In my wife's case, each thumb drive is differentiated by color, so I have a line for each color (lines 5-7). Second, I have to create/copy a "marker" file called _Black_, _White_, and _Blue_ into the root directory of each thumb drive. I also made these files Read-Only to help prevent/reduce the chances of their being accidentally deleted. Third, you have to avail yourself of a program from Microsoft called "Robocopy" (i.e. "Robust Copy Utility"). This is a very useful DOS backup program that's part of Microsoft's Windows Resource Kit. A version for Windows 2003/XP can be downloaded for free from here. (Incidentally, this version of Robocopy also works under Windows 2000.)

If you try running Robocopy without any parameters, you will be innundated with a whole slew of options. Not surprisingly, this program isn't meant for use by home users, but it CAN be a network administrator's best friend. In fact, I use it every night to backup several gigabytes worth of data on our file server at work. Anyway, I'm only using the /MIR option which creates a "mirror" of a folder elsewhere. Or put it another way, it synchronizes the data on the thumb drive to a backup folder on your hard disk.

09 November 2005

Random Ramblings: FTP Clients

Over the past decade, I've really only used two FTP clients. If I'm on Windows machine and want a GUI interface, I invariably grab Ipswitch's free/light WS_FTP LE, a program that has been around for ages. I've even bought the commercial version of WS_FTP over the years, but I've always gravitated back to the free version. I especially like the fact that I can carry and use it anywhere I go simply by copying it to any portable media large enough to hold it (only 1MB needed). No re-installation is required once you've done the initial installation.

More often than not though, I tend to just fire up command line ftp, usually the DOS version but also the Linux version when I'm using such a system. Command line ftp is actually where I started, so even though it may seem clunky, it's like an old friend to me and my fingers seem to be able to remember the most basic commands I need to use (get, put, mget, mput, ascii, binary, dir, prompt, etc.).

Just today though, while I was visiting John Haller's website, I caught sight of his most recent "Portable App": Portable FileZilla. I've never used FileZilla before, but given its open source heritage, I felt it was worth a try. And given it's a portable app, I can carry/use/copy it to whatever computer I use just as easily as with WS_FTP. My opinion? Well, its interface its a bit messy compared to WS_FTP, but I suppose I can get used to it. One thing I especially like is the fact that it can simulatenously download in multiple streams, which seems to speed things up. Shades of PnP!

I'm not 100% sure yet if it will replace WS_FTP LE, but given that it's only a slightly larger 3.5MB, it's tentatively found a home on my thumb drive. Only time will tell if it succeeds in kicking out the original tenant.

04 November 2005

Post Database: Full Bore DSL Speeds?

In the November 2, 2005 issue of Post Database, James Hein wondered why he wasn't getting the full bandwidth that he was "being charged for" (or more precisely, the 2.5 Mbps that his employer signed up for). The explanation lies in a practice called "sharing". Unbeknownst to many, you the customer are rarely alone in using the DSL circuit that you signed up for. Quite the contrary, more often than not you will be sharing your (sic) circuit with a dozen or more people.

Occasionally, but not always, ISP's will issue a disclaimer to this effect. For example, Ji-Net states this (grammar and comprehensibility notwithstanding): "Package DSL has been shared bandwidth. The speed may reduce by 10%-20% as a result of the OVERHEAD from the IP or traffic in the Internet".

Sharing is usually cited as a ratio. Most corporate packages implement sharing at about 1:5 to 1:10; i.e. 1 link shared by 5-10 customers. For home packages, this ratio is much greater and can range anywhere between 1:20 and more than 1:100. I won't name names here, but I suggest you ask the sales/customer service department of your ISP since there's no easy way to determine this ratio otherwise. Obviously, it's not something that ISP's wish to advertise because of its negative implications. Besides, keeping mum probably gives them flexibility in adjusting sharing ratios at a later date as well.

This sharing may explain why DSL prices began plummeting and why throughput could be suffering as a result. To be fair though, you get what you pay for. It's hardly likely that any ISP could make money providing you with a dedicated link while charging less than Baht 1,000 a month. Also, before you get too indignant, be advised that this sharing practice is hardly unique to Thailand.

Finally, in light of the above, I would suggest that you take into consideration more than just speed and cost while evaluating/comparing DSL packages. In addition, I would also look at: a) link speed/# shared users (a measure of performance), and b) link speed/# shared users/monthly fees (a measure of performance per unit cost).