13 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Problems With CD-R Drives

Sigh, more on my trials and tribulations with CD-R drives.

10 December 2000

Random Ramblings: New Cable Modem Benchmarks

Just for the hell of it, I ran a new batch of benchmarks for my cable modem. To my surprise, it's not only running faster, it's running DECIDELY faster than before. (Sorry, Bangkok folk, I know this is like rubbing salt into your wounds, but my intention here is to present a real world target to aim for.) By the way, I still need to reboot Windows and/or reset the cable modem occasionally when things go "walkabout". But generally speaking, performance has been pretty good. Hmm, maybe my neighbours are "Napster'ing" less these days.

Yikes, I just noticed that Internet Explorer v5.5 can't display PNG files. Anyway, I just downloaded IE v5.5 Service Pack 1 and everything's OK now. I'm not sure if the problem was due to Win ME's built-in IE v5.5 or the problem was resolved by the Service Pack.

08 December 2000

Random Ramblings: PC Connection

It's that time of year when Christmas trees are everywhere and all you hear is yuletide muzak. It's also the time when most commercial establishments make 80% of their annual sales. Being in the U.S. now, I've bought much LESS stuff on the internet than I used to (not sure why), but it's going to be interesting to see how the online vendors do this year - who lives, who dies, whose hardware dies, etc.

Anyway, I just placed the BIGGEST order of my life - a friend asked me to order a notebook computer for her daughter. I didn't place the order online as it turned out - time too was too tight - but rather placed an old-fashioned telephone order in order to confirm the delivery date. After I did a quick price comparison at C|Net (https://www.cnet.com), I logically chose the best sounding/looking/rated vendor geographically closest to me (in Seattle, Washington). After spending 10 minutes listening to "Please hang on, your order is valuable to us", I decided to switch to an old mainstay, PC Connection (https://www.pcconnection.com) across the continent in New Hampshire. My phone was answered on the first ring both times I called them (once to place the order, another time to get a tracking number). I got the notebook on-time (24 hours later), installed it, and then sent it packing back to the East Coast. PC Connection is hardly the cheapest outfit around, but I've never had any problems with them and recommend them highly if you can't afford any delays or mistakes.

Hmm, does PC Connection have more operators than other companies? I doubt it; rather, I suspect that they employ a call center that handles orders and then forwards the orders to PC Connection. This occurs in Thailand in some instances as well. If you were to call HP Thailand about a technical problem, chances are you'll be diverted to a Thai speaking technician in Singapore.

And speaking of tracking numbers. If you have packages that are sent by the big courier companies (UPS, Fedex, DHL, etc.) - these companies now allow you to track the progress of your packages online. Go to their websites, find their tracking page, enter your tracking number (the vendor should give you this, otherwise ask for it) and you can see where the package currently is and when it's due to be delivered. super convenient.

07 December 2000

Random Ramblings: New Opera v5 Is Out

A new version 5.0 of Opera for Windows (the so-called "3rd" web browser) was just released; very quickly on the heels of v4.0 I might add. The big deal here is that Opera v5 is now free, but advertisement supported à la the recent Eudoras (sigh). Fortunately, for registered folk the ads don't appear. So far, I don't see much of a difference, but if you're interested, check out https://www.opera.com.

03 December 2000

Wobble: Minor Site Fixes

Minor stuff: a) I've consolidated the left side a bit, and b) the "search" function was broken but has now been fixed.

02 December 2000

Random Ramblings: Experiences with Q-Net

I've added some observations about Q-Net's ADSL service (courtesy of Bill Thompson) here. Incidentally, this is the second person I know of who has reported disappointing results from Q-Net.

01 December 2000

Wobble: Moved to A New ISP

Ah, December, the last month of the year. So much left to do before the year rolls over. Funny, I haven't heard any "millenium" talk of late, despite the fact that it's REALLY going to occur this year. Maybe no one wants to raise the spectre of Y2K again.

The big news today is that wobble is now being hosted from another ISP. For the time being, you can still get here by typing https://www.wobble.tprthai.com (or the lengthier https://www.tprthai.com/wobble), but once you do so, you automatically get redirected to https://www.tprthai.net, wobble's new home. Please start using the tprthai.net address instead as some day I'm going to hand over tprthai.com to someone else to use.

tprthai.net is actually being hosted at Fat Cow (https://www.fatcow.com), while tprthai.com is/was hosted at Adgrafix (https://www.adgrafix.com). Fat Cow is actually my third hosting ISP in the past 6 years. I'm not sure if it's "better" (i.e. faster?), but it's certainly cheaper - US$99 per YEAR including domain name registration versus $59 per MONTH at Adgrafix. An article for hosting newbies is in the works ...

30 November 2000

Random Ramblings: Hello, AOL Calling (Again!)

In my "Sticker Prices, Stickier AOL" article I mentioned that AOL hadn't contacted me in a while. Guess who called last night, inviting me to re-join them and ballyhooing their new v6.0 software? Sigh ...

29 November 2000

Post Database: FDD Problems

There was a letter in Post Database today that complained about floppy disk problems. Here are a few tips culled from experience that might help to reduce these problems.

25 November 2000

Random Ramblings: Back from Las Vegas

A belated Happy Thanksgiving! I just got back from Las Vegas today. I went a week after the Comdex computer trade show ended, hoping that everything will had died down already. It had - sort of - at least until the Thanksgiving crowd started pouring in.

Speaking of Comdex, I've made the pilgrimmage a half dozen times since my inaugural visit in the early 1980's, but I've already had my fill. Comdex is such an overwhelming experience, but a unique and valuable one if you're totally crazy about computers. Unfortunately, the Comdex hotel prices in recent years have been truly predatory and that's cooled me down considerably.

Before I left for Las Vegas, my Linux Mandrake v7.2 arrived from Cheapbytes. I haven't had the chance to install it yet, but hope to do so this week. That same day, I saw the v7.2 boxed versions at the local Staples office superstore. As I was forewarned, the boxed versions only contain KDE v2.0 beta (or more specifically, v1.99), not the final v2.0. A pity.

19 November 2000

Article: Internet Sharing Solutions, Part 5

While housecleaning my hard disk, I came across a half-written article on internet sharing under Linux. I've wrapped up the article, but because Linux isn't currently installed on my computer (I'm expecting Mandrake v7.2 to arrive any day now), one tiny part of the article was left "hanging". Anyway, you can read it here.

16 November 2000

Random Ramblings: Steve Gibson, Firewalls

If you're concerned about how secure your computer is when you're connected to the internet (and who wouldn't be?), I suggest you check out Steve Gibson's "Shield's Up" online test at https://www.grc.com. As a general rule, "always on" connections are more at risk, but there's some risk for modemers as well. Windows users tend to be susceptible to probes for Trojan horses or other backdoors surreptitiously running on their systems or TCP/IP file sharing left turned on. Linux users are at risk for probes of server daemons improperly configured or with known, exploitable bugs.

For standalone computers, the de rigeur defense is to run personal firewall software. (Computers behind routers that run "NAT" have a natural firewall and have less need for their own.) For Windows machines, the best known firewalls are: ZoneAlarm (https://www.zonealarm.com), BlackIce Defender (https://www.netice.com), and Norton Firewall (https://www.symantec.com). For Linux machines, "ipchains" is bundled with all distributions. Unfortunately, it's not the easiest thing world to configure. Oh well, there's always the "how-to" (https://www.linuxdoc.org/HOWTO/IPCHAINS-HOWTO.html).

After having used both BlackIce Defender and Norton Firewall, I'm now trying out the free, non-Pro version of ZoneAlarm under Windows ME. A run-through with Shields Up rates it as being pretty "secure" (for now at least).

15 November 2000

Article: Sticker Prices, Stickier AOL

I've just posted another article: "Sticker Prices, Stickier AOL". Time to start writing my Tivo article ...

14 November 2000

Updates: Windows ME

My Windows ME article was cleaned up a bit, plus a few additions.

13 November 2000

Article: Windows ME

Well, I went and did it - I installed Windows ME (English) on my computer. I also managed to get Microsoft Office 2000 (English) to handle Thai adequately. You can read about it here.

04 November 2000

Random Ramblings: Mandrake v7.2

Linux lovers no doubt know by now that Linux Mandrake v7.2 (https://www.linux-mandrake.com) was just released. This version is bundled with the new KDE v2 and a bunch of other goodies. I haven't been playing with Linux recently, but I AM going to get this as soon as I can. Ugh, the download is about 1 gigabyte in size (1.5 CD's worth). An easier way to get it is from Cheapbytes at https://www.cheapbytes.com.

31 October 2000

Random Ramblings: More Thailand ADSL Benchmarks

Happy Halloween! I just got another batch of ADSL benchmark figures from a young friend in Thailand. They can be perused here.

29 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Adjusting Stuff to Daylight Savings Time

It's the last Sunday in October and here in the great Northwest, it's time to turn back our clocks by one hour because of Daylight Savings. The last time I had to do this was in the early 1970's when I was doing my Bachelor's degree in the great Northeast. At that time there were no such things as personal computers - the closest thing around was a monster "portable" by IBM that came equipped with Basic and APL and costed several 10's of thousands of Dollars.

This time, Windows 98, upon booting up, non-chalantly informed me that it had moved the time back one hour, but that I should check to make sure anyway (who said Microsoft was cocksure?). My General Instruments cable box and my Sony TiVo box also adjusted themselves with nary a peep, but for them it's to be expected since they both receive feeds from their respective HQ's (continuously for the cable box, once a day for the TiVo box). Everything else I had to adjust by hand. 20-30 years from now, assuming I'm not already ashes floating on the water, I wonder how many devices I'll still need to adjust.

28 October 2000

Updates: Cable Modem, TweakUI

Some additions/revisions were made to my cable modem and TweakUI updates.

27 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Pre-Paid ISP Packages

I was browsing the computer section of the local university bookstore yesterday and noticed a bunch of CD's labelled "Slingshot" placed near the cash register (like candy, it's placed there to attract the attention of impulse buyers). In case you're wondering, Slingshot (https://www.slingshot.com) is similar to the "phone card" type internet accounts that abound in Thailand.

While this is a big yawn for us Thai surfers, it's almost non-existent here in the U.S. Most internet users here must either sign up with a regular ISP or a free ISP, providing personal information in both cases. While the latter can often be faked, the former usually can't due to billing requirements. Anonymous surfing, whereby your ISP doesn't know who you are, just doesn't exist here (short of using public access terminals, that is).

Slingshot is pretty cheap at about 2 cents (0.75 Baht)/hour for local and 5 cents (2 Baht)/hour for toll-free (!) dialing. Compare this with Internet Thailand's Inet Access and Ji-Net's Millenium Kit II, both of which cost about 12 Baht/hour. Another selling point about this type of account is that you don't need to give a credit card # to start up an account. This doesn't mean you're 100% anonymous though. According to Slingshot's privacy statement, they do place cookies in your computer and furthermore, the telephone number that you dial FROM is recorded as well. Bottom line: "anonymous" means that they don't make a point of tracing your identity, although clealry, the means to do so still exist (presumably by Gestapo types).

If you're serious about anonymous internet'ing, I suggest you check out the Anonymizer service at https://www.anonymizer.com. They have a pretty good briefing of how anonymous you can hope to get. See if it's enough and whether it's worth the asking price.

26 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Online Dictionaries

At home in Thailand, I own a handful of dictionaries (an Oxford English, Sor Sethabutr's Thai/English and English/Thai, etc.). Unfortunately, I never liked using computer-based dictionaries and rarely even use the built-in dictionaries that come with most word processors. I'm a bit peculiar in that I prefer to flip through pages to find words. Anyway, while packing for the U.S., I thought long and hard whether to bring any dictionaries and if so, which ones. It wasn't for me or for my wife so much, but for my eldest daughter who would be going to school in an all English environment for the first time. Alas, space limitations made the decision for us and we came empty-handed.

One reason why I was willing to come dictionary-less was that I knew there were some dictionaries that could be accessed from the internet. A good resource is https://www.yourdictionary.com which provides links to a host of online dictionaries. Besides de rigeur English, they also have a wealth of non-English dictionaries, including Thai (Thai is even listed on the opening page!).

I find myself using these resources a lot these days as I help my daughter with her homework. Unfortunately, most of the dictionaries here aren't meant for kids. After checking with AskJeeves for Kids (https://www.askjeevesforkids.com), I found a more "young reader" oriented dictionary at https://www.wordcentral.com.

25 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Comparing Broadband Performances

Aha! Post Database's Tony Waltham has written up his experiences with ADSL in Thailand. To provide a basis for comparison, I've run some benchmarks with my cable modem from the same website that Tony did. Vide here.

24 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Killing Time at ThinkGeek

I'm still thinking about what to write next (there are several morsels on my plate - I'm just deciding which one I should digest next). While in this procrastinating frame of mind, I spent some time tonight at ThinkGeek's website (https://www.thinkgeek.com). For lack of a better description, consider this the Linux version of "Sharper Image" - an online store/mall with a lot of cool stuff for sale. What really piqued my interest were the posters. There's a neat Tux poster made up of Linux kernel source code. Also, some "de-motivation" posters (you've probably seen those emotive posters which are meant to "motivate" you - these do the exact opposite). Take a peek: https://www.thinkgeek.com/stuff/posters.html.

23 October 2000

Random Ramblings: KDE v2's Out

All you Linux lads out there should no doubt be happy to hear that the long awaited KDE v2.0 desktop environment is officially out. For more info, check out https://www.kde.org. Being the lazy type, I'm just going to wait until my favourite Linux distro pre-packages it, along with XFree v4.0.

19 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Tivo

For the past week, I've been tinkering with my latest "toy": a Sony SVR-2000 TiVo box. Simply put, TiVo boxes are "digital VCR's". Imagine a tape-less VCR with 10-30 hours recording capacity (depending on the recording quality you select). Imagine not having to scrounge around for a video tape when you want to record something. Imagine not having to find the end of the tape to record something. Imagine being able to rewind "live" TV. Imagine being able to issue a "global command" to tape ALL showings of The X-Files without having to specify dates or times. Now, imagine a VCR case with the innards removed and replaced with a computer mainboard with an IBM PowerPC CPU, a 30gb Quantum Fireball IDE hard disk, and Linux inside. That's what we're talking about.

The TiVo system (https://www.tivo.com) has been out about a year now (or at least that's how long I've had my eye on it), but it's NOT the only such system around. ReplayTV (https://www.replay.com) is another competing system. (Also, check out https://www.iwantptv.com for some generic private TV news). While quite useable in their current forms, both are still evolving and still have limited penetration, even here in the U.S. (sort of like portable MP3 players). As for Thailand, I don't expect it to reach there for at least another 2 years.

A full blown review is planned, although I haven't started writing it yet (I only have about 70% of its features working properly at the moment). Soon ...

17 October 2000

Random Ramblings: iPAQ Internet Applicance

I was in one of the big 3 U.S. office superstores recently (Officemax, Office Depot or Staples - I forgot which one) and happen to spy one of Compaq's new iPAQ "internet appliances" (i.e. the "home" version). What drew my attention was NOT its capabilities as a non-PC computer, its design, or even its price. What drew me to this particular iPAQ was its keyboard - one of its key caps was missing and its right "mouse" (sic) button was half pried off. A real cheap piece of plastic, folks. A word to the wise: don't even think about it.

15 October 2000

Article: PSX'ing In A Foreign Land

Just finished an article ("PSX'ing in a Foreign Land") about the trials and tribulations of getting a Thailand bred and born Sony Playstation to work in the U.S.

12 October 2000

Post Database: Thai Fonts and Acrobat Reader

An answer to a question in this week's Post Database re: viewing Thai fonts with Adobe Acrobat Reader.

11 October 2000

Updates: Shutdown, Cable Modem, Journey in Linux

Some minor revisions/additions were made to my "More on Shutdown", "Cable Modem Adventures", and "A Personal Journey into Linux" pieces.

09 October 2000

Post Database: Shutting Down Windows With RUNDLL

A letter to Post Database's Helpdesk re: problems shutting down Windows using the RUNDLL method.

08 October 2000

Random Ramblings: Wired Magazine

Although I've been internet'ing for quite a while now, I've never had the occasion (opportunity? desire? frame of mind?) to buy a copy of "Wired" Magazine (https://www.wired.com). Not sure why - perhaps it was too expensive in Thailand or perhaps it lacked the hardware/software reviews that I tend to read, focusing instead on trends and issues.

Anyway, having finished my quota of reading for the week, I picked up a copy of "Wired" just for the hell of it. This was the October 2000 issue, the one with a digital American flag on the cover. What drew me to the magazine was its report on "global file sharing", as exemplified by Napster, Gnutella and their ilk.

Now, I'm not much of a Napster user (too slow from Thailand and even here in the U.S. I only occasionally use it to obtain some songs that I already have in Thailand (read: legally own) but didn't bring with me. However, I do closely follow the news about the Napster phenomenon, and of course, the trial. That, plus my limited experience with Gnutella prompted me to buy the magazine.

If you're interested in the subject, it's a good read. Some articles from the magazine are already on Wired's site, but not all. The complete set of articles won't be posted for another month. There's a good resource listing of file sharing software (posted), an excellent article by John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (not yet posted), and an interview of David Boies, lead lawyer for Napster (posted).

06 October 2000

Article: Headphones, Earphones, Headsets

I've just finished an article on headphones, earphones, headsets - whatever you want to call them - as a replacement for computer-bound speakers.

04 October 2000

Post Database: Sorting the Programs Listing Under Windows

Someone named (sic) "J.H." (did aliens abduct his/her real name?) wrote to Post Database's Helpdesk asking how to sort the "Programs" listing under Windows' "Start Menu". Well, here's how to do it.

03 October 2000

Post Database: Taming Windows

A letter for Post Database re: Tony Waltham's "Taming Windows" (PDB, 27-Sep-2000). Reference is made to a Maximum PC article for those who are ready, willing (???), and able to reinstall Windows "one more time".

28 September 2000

Random Ramblings: Enchanted Learning Website

Got a little one around the house that loves to colour pictures? Save money on colouring books and head for Enchanted Learning's website at https://www.enchantedlearning.com where the little ones will also learn a thing or two (and hopefully more!). There's so much stuff here that I don't know where to begin. Just take my word for it and check it out - it's terrific!

27 September 2000

Article: Cable Modem Adventures

I've just posted my cable modem review, "Cable Modem Adventures". It's a mite long, a mite technical, but hopefully it will prove useful to someone, somewhere, somehow.

20 September 2000

Random Ramblings: Broadband, At Last!

After suffering for the past 3 months with a maximum dial-up speed of 26.4kbps and disconnects every 15 minutes in the good old US of A, yours truly is now the proud owner (well, "leaser") of a cable modem connection, courtesy of AT&T;'s @Home service. So far, it seems to work "fine", as my 400mb of downloads yesterday can attest. A more detailed review is in the works.

18 September 2000

Updates: Online Banking

I've added a lengthy update to my Online Banking: SCB Cash Management article. Part of it has to do with SCB Park, while the rest deals with some now first-hand experience with U.S. internet banking services.

17 September 2000

Article: IBM Keyboards

Another day, another article, one dedicated to my beloved IBM keyboard: The Great IBM Clickety-Clack Keyboard. If you're sick of the cheap plastic keyboards that abound and want a SERIOUS keyboard, read this.

16 September 2000

Articles: Backlog of Stuff

Oops. Wobble took another long vacation, but it's back again. A small backlog of articles, letters, etc. that I've written are as below (in chronological order):

15 September 2000

Random Ramblings: Windows ME's Here

Windows Millenium Edition (ME) is out. While I'm vaguely curious about it, US$90 for the Windows 95/98 upgrade is just too expensive. The Win98x $50 uprade price is acceptable and REALLY should have included upgrades for Win95 as well. In my opinion, it's short-sighted for Microsoft to leave behind Win95 users who took a bye on Win98 (which is what the $90 price tag effectively does), especially if they have hopes of dragging people into the anticipated consumer version of Win2K.