10 December 2004

Random Ramblings: Thunderbird v1.0

Thunderbird v1.0 came out yesterday and needless to say, I immediately downloaded it for my collection. What may be a bit unexpected is that it's STILL NOT to my liking. While I cheerlead for FireFox a lot, Thunderbird just doesn't strike my fancy. Why? First of all, I find its setup rather confusing. Secondly, unlike with Internet Explorer, there are a LOT of good, free email clients to choose from (or you can just use webmail). Thus, there's no overrding need to run away from Microsoft Outlook and into Thunderbird's arms.

Perhaps my biggest reason for keeping Thunderbird on the sidelines though is that it still lacks two very important features that my current email client (an ancient Eudora v3.0.5) possesses:

  • Portability - Not in terms of the number of platforms it supports (Eudora loses hands down on this point because it only runs under Windows and Macs), but rather the fact that my Eudora program files take up but a mere 5MB (not counting the message files). This allows me to carry it around with me on my thumb drive wherever I go. Add to this the fact my Eudora can be literally COPIED (not just installed) wherever I want it and it can be run simply by clicking the main executable file. No profile nonsense to contend with.
  • Flexibility - I can put my mail files anywhere I want and instruct Eudora to run with those files. For example, I can easily set up multiple email accounts for several people on a single computer/single login. While recent versions of Thunderbird can do this as well, I find the procedure to be awkward and unintuitive. Given that I'm no neophyte, this is a serious drawback in my opinion.
Does this mean that I don't recommend Thunderbird? Nope, rather I'm just neutral about it because I don't use it - and as things currently stand, probably never will. Granted, it has a lot of nice features that my oldie Eudora will never have. But for me email has always been something very simple - send mail, read mail, file mail, delete mail - so I don't really suffer from feature envy.

30 November 2004

Wobble: Site Changes

FYI: I just changed my spyware testing posting into a full fledged article, with the actual body of the article accessible through a link to an HTML file instead. I realized it should have been an article in the first place, but since I didn't have a template that uses a stylesheet similar to the rest of the site, I just uploaded it as a lengthy blog posting. Anyway, I've developed the template already, and since my next piece will also be of article length, this prompted this conversion. All of my past articles are being converted as well, albeit slowly.

24 November 2004

Random Ramblings: One Firefox Problem Solved

Okay, I've sort of fixed one of the Firefox problems I complained about the other day: the one about Firefox using the localized version of Google to do searches and as a result displaying some Thai text. My fix still relies on google.co.th rather than google.com, but at least the results are entirely in English now. Here's what you do:
  • Point Firefox to https://www.google.com. If you're based in Thailand, chances are you will be taken to www.google.co.th. The line of text below the Google logo and above the input line should be in Thai.
  • Around the middle of the page, you should see something similar to "xxxxx Google.co.th xx : English", where xxx are Thai characters and "English" is a link.
  • Simply click the "English" link (note: NOT the "Google.com in English" link below that).
  • After you do this, nearly everything should be in English now, except for a line that reads: "Google.co.th offered in: xxxxxxx". This is merely a link that allows you to revert back to Google's Thai mode, which is where we were originally.
  • Doing this also places two cookies on your system, at least one of which Google uses to remember your language preferences.
That's it! When you now use the Firefox search box at the top/right corner of the screen, all results should be in English - at least until you clear Google's cookies. If you do this for any reason, simply repeat the process above.

The "case of the missing Google logo" however, had a different turn of events. At first, I thought my Pop-Up Alt extension was the cause of this - but perhaps not entirely. If you were to click the "Google.com in English" link alluded to above, you will find - yep, no logo! Does this also occur under Internet Explorer? No, it doesn't. But then it doesn't on my older versions of Firefox, nor with an old copy of Mozilla (v1.4.1) running on my Linux server either.

22 November 2004

Random Ramblings: Firefox Observations

After much procrastinating, I finally installed Firefox v1.0 on my mainstay computer, which until now had been running v0.9.3. Actually, I had Firefox v1.0 PR installed on my second, test computer, but I didn't use it much except for my short-lived FirefoxIE testing.

Since I've been saying a lot of positive things about Firefox lately, I figured it's time that I report on the bad stuff as well:

First of all, once I installed v1.0, I noticed that the Google search box (top/right corner) did its search using the Thai version of Google. While I can read Thai, I can imagine non-Thai's living in Thailand having a problem with this. While not everything is in Thai, I can imagine the frustration of someone not being to read every little bit and the added frustration of not being to do anything about it. This problem didn't manifest itself with v0.9.x or even v1.0 PR, but it does with the real McCoy v1.0. Because this annoys me as well and I'm definitely going to try and find a fix.

Second, when I tried to go to the English version of Google, the big Google logo in the middle of the page upped and disappeared. Very ugly, man After spending some time investigating this, I discovered that the problem wasn't due to Firefox after all, but to an extension I installed under v0.9.3 called "Pop-Up Alt Attributes". The purpose of this extension was to display a pop-up hint containg the text of the alt attribute whenever you move your mouse cursor over an image. Internet Explorer and Netscape do this as a matter of fact, but for some reason, Firefox doesn't. Interestingly, there is a heated discussion at the Mozilla Development Forum, with the traditionalists arguing that Firefox's failure to pop up the text of the alt attribute is INDEED the correct behaviour because the alt attribute was NEVER intended to display a hint. Rather it was designed to provided a textual description whenever the image doesn't display for some reason. Since I was using Firefox to test out my website and wanted to display some strategic hints, I added this extension. But it has now been removed. At least until I find a similar but less buggy extension.

Third, an icon appearing next to one of my bookmarks on the toolbar refuses to display itself, no matter how I fiddle with it. Again, I'm stumped on this, but will likewise try to fix it.

On the plus side, one very nice thing I discovered (by accident) is Firefox's ability to open multiple web pages with a single action. My bookmark toolbar not only has the usual links, but also folders containing links. The other day, while right clicking on a folder, I accidentally chose "Open in Tabs". What happend was that ALL of the links saved under that folder opened themselves up in tabs. Very nice and very convenient! As I go to a number of websites every day to read news, I now copy these bookmarks to a folder and open all of them up with only 2 mouse clicks. By the way, this feature also existed in v0.9.3 - and probably earlier too.

(P.S. Phase 1 of the website is finished and you can partake of it at https://www.tprthailand.com. Be kind though. Yours truly, doesn't make a living designing websites.)

15 November 2004

Article: Spyware Testing (Part 1)

I've just written a full length article, that details results of some spyware testing. By the way, if the article sounds like I'm writing for someone else, you're right. I actually wrote this with an eye for a reprint in Post Database.

11 November 2004

Random Ramblings: Gaming Again

Sigh, still busy with the website, although Phase 1 should be up and running in a few days. In case you didn't realize it, I'm not particularly fond of doing websites.

An expected side effect of all this work is that I have to unwind every now and then. My diversion du jour happens to be a computer chess program. In truth, I'm not much of a game player, but every blue moon I do manage to find something worth playing for a few months (e.g. Wizardy on my old Apple II, Lode Runner and Commander Keen on my early PC). But it's been more than 10 years since I did any serious gaming.

Anyway, I recently read Matt Leppard's review of the 10th Edition of Chessmaster in the November 3, 2004 issue of Post Database and was intrigued. I started playing chess when I was a child (my father taught me), and I even played on my high school team, not to mention a tournament or two. But I was never a hard core player and it's literally been 30 years since I played a serious game.

Back in the good old days of computing, a good chess program was one of the Holy Grails. When a program called "Sargon" came out for my Apple II, I excitedly grabbed a copy. But even back in those days, computer chess programs were able to whup me pretty good. Not being a glutton for punishment, I decided to retire myself from most things chess (except for following the exploits of Deep Blue vs Gary Kasparaov and an occasional viewing of "Searching for Bobby Fischer").

This time, I decided to download a time-limited (8 hours of play) trial copy of Chessmaster first (be forewarned, it's 60MB!). The program comes with a lot of bells and whistles, although on the demo, the opponents were limited to real easy players or the Chessmaster himself. Anyway, after a few rounds of routing the minions and being routed by the Chessmaster, I decided to splurge for the real thing. Matt Leppard wrote that the selling price was 799 Baht, but I managed to buy it for 599 Baht, a definite bargain (especially given the fact that the U.S./online price is US$40).

So, have I returned to my chess playing heyday? Hardly. My play is pretty sloppy, no thanks to poor concentration and lack of patience. Still, I plan to gradually play myself back into shape. If nothing else, chess has the wonderful ability to focus your mind and that should come in useful in my ... umm, website work.

07 November 2004

Random Ramblings: Power Supplies: A Cautionary Tale

Chances are, your computer power supply isn't something that you're going to think about a lot. If you buy a brand name computer or even a no-name Panthip-type computer, your power supply will almost certainly have been chosen for you already (assuming you even have a choice). And even if you build your own computer, there's a good chance that you'll just settle for the power supply that comes with your case. In fact, only if you're particularly picky or buy expensive cases that come without power supplies or build server-class computers are you likely to choose your own power supply. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

If you suspect that I'm going to theorize that there are differences in power supplies, you're right. But on the other hand, I'm also going to admit that whatever power supply you get, from wherever you get your computer, is going to last you a good many years even if you let someone else do the choosing for you - ASSUMING that your hardware needs are middle-of-the-road. On the other hand, pile on two hard disks, 2 CD drives, a power hungry 3D display, a fire-breathing CPU, or run your computer 24/7 in a non-airconditioned environment and you'd be exceedingly wise to invest in something better than the average 4-500 Baht Panthip 300 watt power supply.

The importance of an ample power supply was illustrated to me a few months back when I was upgrading a friend's Dell Optiplex desktop computer. As she was hoping to use her computer to store a lifetime of scanned photos/documents, not to mention more recent digital photographs, a replacment CD-writer and a larger hard disk were in the cards. At the time, I thought an 80GB hard disk would be a nice long term investment. The procedure was simple enough - pop out the CD-ROM drive and the current 10GB hard disk and pop in a new combo CD-Writer and the aforementioned 80GB hard disk.

Everything worked fine for about a month when inexplicably the hard disk died. I've used this brand of hard disk (Maxtor) for years without a failure, so I though it was just a case of bad luck. After a few weeks, we got a free replacement, stuck it into the Dell and thought nothing of it. A few weeks later, lightning struck twice - the hard disk failed again! Now, if you know your odds, it is simply impossible that TWO brand new hard disks could fail in such short a time - there had to be another reason. Looking inside the Dell gave me the answer, a shocking answer in fact: the computer came with a weakling 150 watt power supply!

This reminded me of a discovery I made a long time ago: all brand name computers are essentially dead-end computers. They perform fine within their factory installed limits. But don't ever hope for it to do more than it was designed for. Each computer fits neatly into a given niche within the vendor's product line and its capabilities will not infringe on the next level of computer. If you want more, be prepared to buy a new computer.

The Dell's 150 watt power supply is indicative of this way of thinking. What particularly bothers me is that this is NOT a terribly old computer - it comes with a 1 GHz Pentium III CPU. In a day and age when 300 watt power supplies are just about adequate, installing a 150 watt supply into a computer is in my opinion, a sick joke. (Or looked at another way, it's a way for Dell to save a few bucks.) Anyway, my friend's Optiplex is now doing fine, with its old 10GB hard disk back in place. Meanwhile, we built her a new computer to handle her new digital needs.

This computer, all of my ATX tower computers at home, and all our self-built servers at work use either Enlight or Enermax power supplies (300-350 watt models). These are good power supplies and will set you back around 2,000 Baht apiece. As I mentioned, if your power needs are modest, and especially if you use a motherboard with everything already on-board, you can do fine with a no-name 300+ watt power supply. But if you want superb reliability under demanding conditions, I highly recommend these brands. (Note: Enermax power supplies seem to outsell Enlight at Panthip these days.)

04 November 2004

Random Ramblings: Learning Website Tricks As I Go

Things have been a bit slow of late with my Wobble writings. The reason is that after 6 hours straight of doing website development every day, I'm a little bushed (no pun intended). Nonetheless, here are some updates to stuff that I've recently talked about:
  • Petch and I finally got our scrollable/zoomable map working. Thanks to ZoomifyerEZ, the scrolling and zooming was actually the easy part. What was considerably more time consuming was creating the map. It took a full day of working with Adobe Photoshop and Corel Draw before I gave it my seal of approval. If you're curious to see what it looks like, check out here. You can scroll and zoom using the toolbar, or you can scroll by moving your mouse and clicking and holding the left mouse button. (Note: It may take a few seconds before sections of the map are downloaded into memory whenever you scroll or zoom.)
  • Before I made the final decision to use ZoomifyerEZ, I continued my search for other products with similar capabilities. Noteworthy is a program called "Loris Vector Map Engine" (LVME) put out by a Lithuanian company call Loris. LVME is more narrowly oriented towards map making, and not just maps that one can scroll and zoom, but interactive maps that can display and hide map objects on demand. If you're in the business of creating city guide websites, this could come in handy. The software sells for US$69, which isn't terribly expensive I suppose if you're making money with this.
  • One thing Petch and I noticed while creating text-oriented web graphics is that the TrueType fonts that come standard with Windows and/or were added by Photoshop or Corel Draw leave something to be desired. These little deficiences may not be very apparent when you're using office applications, but they were very apparent - and annoying - to us in our graphics work. The solution was to obtain a "better" font, such as those designed for use on high-resolution typesetters. We finally settled on a Univers font from Linotype, a company of great reknown in this industry. The next question was where to get it from. After searching the usual back alleys of Bangkok, I finally decided to open my purse strings and bought it from MyFonts, a font clearinghouse that shows up often when you Google for fonts. The price was US$21, hardly the cheapest thing in the world, but thankfully we only needed to buy one, and in the final analysis, the improvement was worth it.

01 November 2004

Random Ramblings: Lorem Ipsum

This may be the most useless thing I've ever written, but what the hell.

The other day I was working on a web page and I wanted to insert a paragraph of text onto the page. I hadn't actually written the text yet, but I still wanted to put a placemarker on the page, partly as a reminder to write the text and partly to allow me to continue formatting the remainder of the page. Rather than haphazardly generating a stream of junk characters (is there a technical term for this?), I remembered that there's a chunk of Latin text that's normally used for this purpose. I also recalled that it started with "Lorem ipsum".

Doing a Google search for "Lorem ipsum" came up with an interesting website. Not only does it provide an informative history of "Lorem ipsum", it also provides an online "Lorem ipsum" generator. You simply choose how many paragraphs, words or bytes of text you want, and the program generates it for you. For what it's worth, here's what two paragraphs of "lorem ipsum" look like:

    "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Vivamus feugiat nisl sit amet erat fringilla luctus. Cras pharetra dui quis neque. Sed sit amet neque feugiat magna varius sodales. Suspendisse sagittis. Integer mattis blandit ante. Cras tempor. Etiam dolor diam, lacinia ut, bibendum eget, scelerisque in, tellus. Nulla sagittis mi et lorem. Pellentesque elementum magna nec dui. In sit amet dui ac orci venenatis faucibus. Sed at pede. Nullam non nisl in mi interdum commodo. Aenean et tortor vitae risus mollis tristique."

    Fusce sed libero. Sed scelerisque, dui ut adipiscing bibendum, neque eros volutpat neque, id bibendum ipsum ante vel wisi. Aenean vel risus. Vestibulum odio. Aenean a tortor in metus semper placerat. Nunc vel nulla vel metus nonummy molestie. Nulla lorem sem, pellentesque et, pellentesque non, viverra vel, nulla. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Aenean nulla. Aenean neque ligula, dictum eu, nonummy a, cursus sed, urna. Sed urna magna, fermentum et, sodales vel, convallis vulputate, lorem. Donec in odio. Etiam leo. Nam dignissim ante ac wisi. Donec dui libero, ultrices eu, fringilla a, laoreet id, metus. Curabitur metus felis, porttitor vitae, aliquet id, volutpat nec, ipsum. Etiam nec felis et nibh convallis aliquam. Vestibulum rhoncus iaculis eros. Curabitur porta fermentum magna. Proin ipsum ante, consequat at, fringilla at, sagittis eu, purus.

Don't bother brushing up on your Latin - the text may look neat, but it actually means nothing. Totally useless? Perhaps, but it may be interesting to note that this website has managed to receive 2 MILLION hits in just under 2 years. No doubt, that's more than Wobble will get in 20 years!

30 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Instant Messaging for the Non-IM'er

Instant messaging (IM) has never been my cup of tea. As with telephones, I feel IM'ing to be disruptive and intrusive. Other people, of course, DO use/like/rely on IM. My kids are a case in point - no doubt they'd feel lost with it.

Recently, someone in the U.S. who coordinates with the test prep company I work for requested that all of his contacts get signed up to IM; specifically AOL's AIM. Argh!!! I have a personal hate-hate relationship with AOL and wrote about it some time ago. Anyway, after procrastinating for as long as I could, I downloaded the latest AIM v5.9 and proceeded to install it on one of my spare computers. Sigh, AOL is still up to its old tricks. Even when I unchecked all possible things it wanted to do/install, the program still left its ugly footprints all over the place. To make a long story short, I proceeded to sign up the person who will have the misfortune to use it and then uninstalled the program as quickly as I could.

Not surprisingly, many of the students at the office are IM aficionados and they can't resist installing it on our computers when they don't see it available. ("It" in this case is MSN Messenger though, not AOL's AIM.) For a long time now, I've wanted to install a less onerous IM client, which eventually led me to Gaim. Gaim is one of those programs I love - it's free and it runs on multiple platforms (Windows, Linux/BSD, Mac). It also works with the most popular IM protocols (MSN Messenger, AIM, ICQ, Yahoo!, IRC, etc.) and in fact is capable of logging into such disparate IM networks simultaneously! If I were an IM freak, this would make me incredibly ecstatic! Since I'm not, it only makes me incredibly impressed!

Although I've been aware of Gaim for a while now, I've never tried it before this because it was having compatibility problems with a recent MSN Messenger upgrade. More than 6 months have passed since then and the latest Gaim v1.02 proved to work flawlessly (at least to my eyes) with both Aim v5.9 and MSN Messenger v6.2. Better yet, it's one of those nicely behaved programs - it doesn't linger around in the system tray when you exit it, it doesn't display any commercial content, and it doesn't nag you about signing up for any paid services.

Still, switching from AIM/MSN Messenger to Gaim may not be quite so simple in the real world. While I should be able to get our new AIM user to switch to Gaim, getting my kids to discard their beloved MSN Messenger will be infinitely more difficult. Oh well, one step at a time.

28 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Command Line Nero

I've been using Ahead Software's Windows-based CD burning software Nero Burning ROM for quite some time now. The versions that I've used (v5.x and v6.x) were/are the full retail packages, not the limited, "Express"-only versions that come bundled free with numerous brands of CD writers. Nero has performed nicely over the years for me, with my only real complaint being the lack of a decent (or even a half-decent) manual. Their online FAQ's and forums alleviate this problem somewhat, but personally I'd still prefer a comprehensive manual, even if it were a PDF file on the program CD.

Like most people, I use the GUI version of the program. Wait, does that mean there is a non-GUI version of Nero? Indeed there is and I found out about it quite by accident (no thanks to their lousy manuals). At work, we back up our file servers using Windows 2000's NTBACKUP utility. This program is scheduled to run daily during the wee hours of the morning. Most system administrators (including us) run NTBACKUP as part of a batch file that probably does other things as well. After the backup file has been created, we then manually burn it to a DVD-R using Nero. This is done 2-3 times a week.

One day, I made a casual remark to my co-worker Petch that wouldn't be it great if we could have our daily batch file burn the DVD-R for us too, so that we wouldn't have to wait 1/2 hour for this to be completed? Immediately, a light bulb switched on in my head and I surmised that a command line version of Nero MUST exist! And indeed it did, as a quick Google search confirmed. Meet Nerocmd.exe, the command line version of Nero. The full Nero v5.5 and v6.0 packages certainly have this, but I'm not sure if the limited/bundled versions does as well.

As is par for the course, written documentation for Nerocmd is non-existent. The only thing that was available to help me get started were a dozen pages of help screens when you ran the program without any parameters. Through trial and error, I got it to run properly for both CD-R's and DVD-R's. For what it's worth, this is what the command looks like in our batch file:

    nerocmd --write --real --drivename G --iso BakDCYK --dvd --disable_eject --enable_abort --no_user_interaction d:\Backup.bkf
This tells Nerocmd to perform a REAL burn (as opposed to a simulated one), that the DVD-writer is on drive G:, that the media format is ISO9660, to use a volume name of "BakDCYK", not to eject the DVD tray when it's finished, to allow the program to be manually aborted if necessary, not to wait for any responses from the user (i.e. to automatically assume the defaults unless instructed otherwise), and to burn the file named D:\Backup.bkf. Remove the --dvd parameter and this command will write to a CD-R instead of a DVD-R. Change/add a few parameters and this will work with CD-RW's and DVD-RW's also. Add a parameter file and you can backup a disparate collection of files, rather than just one or a wildcard of files.

Okay, I admit that this ain't pretty, but it does make my life as a sysadmin a bit easier. And assuming that you periodically back up your data onto CD's or DVD's, you too can create a similar batch file that can be scheduled to run or manually run with a single click of a shortcut.

26 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Windows Shutdown Revisited

No doubt, every mother's son has written about shortcuts to shutdown Windows. I myself have written about the subject twice (see this and this). But given that 4 long years have past and given that it's such a valuable time saver, I've decided to revisit the subject again.

First of all, if you habitually click the Windows Start button > Shut Down > Shut Down to turn off your Windows computer (or something similar depending on your flavour of Windows), you're wasting time and energy. Be honest - would you accept a free CPU that would load your word processor 3-4 seconds faster? Then, why not save yourself those same 3-4 seconds by setting up an equally free shutdown routine.

If you're using Windows 9x, there's a well known trick to create a shutdown shortcut (i.e. C:\Windows\Rundll.exe user.exe,ExitWindows). Since I don't use Windows 9x anymore, I'm going to focus on Windows 2000 and above instead. My favouite shutdown utility of all time is Andrej Budja's Shutdown v1.0, which was designed for Windows XP, but also runs under Windows 2000. Not only have I been using this practically every day for the past 4-5 years, I've also installed it on several dozen computers that have crossed my path. It has all of the basic features that you'd expect from a shutdown utility (i.e. normal shutdown, forced shutdown, timed shutdown, reboot, logoff, etc.). And simply put, it works!

Here's a quick howto to set up a shutdown shortcut on your desktop:

  • Download the program and copy Shutdown.exe to, say, your Windows system directory (e.g. C:\Winnt).
  • Right-click on your desktop, choose New > Shortcut and browse to where you saved the program.
  • Running Shutdown.exe alone will only display a help screen - you have to add a parameter. If necessary, right-click the shortcut you just created and on the Target line, add a -u at the end of the command.
  • While you're there, click in the field next to Shortcut Key and press S. This will allow you to run the program by pressing Ctrl-Alt-S. This is useful is you want to shutdown your computer without using a mouse.
  • Still on the same screen, set the Run option to run the program Minimized.
  • Finally, click the Change Icon button and browse, for example, to a DLL that contains lots of icons. I normally use the yellow, diamond shaped face in C:\Winnt\System32\Moricons.dll, but to each his/her own.
  • Finally, OK your way out of the setup screens and you're done.
  • You can now shutdown your computer by double-clicking the shortcut you've created or by pressing Ctrl-Alt-S.
Once you start using this, you'll never go back to the old, multi-click routine again. Happy Shutting Down!

23 October 2004

Random Ramblings: BitTorrent

I got started with BitTorrent a bit late. For those who haven't heard of it or tried yet it, BitTorrent is a quasi-P2P file sharing system that actually performs better when more people are using it - which is the opposite of what occurs with traditional client/server paradigms such as ftp. BitTorrent gets it speed from the fact that fragments of the file you want are downloaded from multiple sources simultaneously. It works best with newer, popular files since these have a higher probability/incidence of being downloaded at any one time.

When I was still in the U.S. and had access to a sweet little 1 Mbps cable modem, I tended to download big files such as ISO's using plain FTP. Under the best of conditions, it would take me only an hour or so to download a single 600-700MB ISO. And even if it took longer with slower or congested sites, I could just let the download continue overnight while I slept.

Upon returning to Thailand, such luxuries vanished into thin air. Even when I finally had ADSL broadband installed in my home (512K downstream - no slouch), the prospects of downloading ISO's was daunting. Thus, when I decided to obtain the new Fedora Core 2 (FC2) Linux distribution, I reluctantly reverted to my old habit of buying from Cheapbytes.

After I placed the order (it takes about 2 weeks to arrive here), I decided to search Google to see where FC2 was available for downloading. I figured I might TRY to ftp a single ISO just to see how long it would take. No harm - if it took too long, I could just abort it and wait for the Cheapbytes CD's to arrive by mail. Many of the Google search results referred to BitTorrent, and realizing that I didn't REALLY know what BitTorrent was all about, I read up on it. I then proceeded to download a Windows BitTorrent client and gave it a try with a smallish test file. Lo and behold, it worked!

Since the download was small, I didn't really appreciate how fast it was. A better proof of concept was to attempt a download of one of the FC2 ISO's. Unfortunately, the only FC2 "torrent" file that I could find was a download of the complete FC2 distribution that comprised 5 CD's in all (note: the last 2 CD's are only partially full, so the entire set is equivalent to "only" 3.5 full CD's). Gulp, a 2.3GB download! Oh well, what the hell, I can always abort it. 17+ hours later, I had a full set of FC2 ISO's in my hands - more than a week before my Cheapbytes order would arrive! This averages out to about 4 hrs/CD. If you want to know how fast this was, compare this with a regular FTP download I made of OpenTLE v5.5 LiveCD (i.e. "Talay", the Thai Linux), which I obtained from NECTEC's FTP site. That ONE CD alone, took 13+ hours to download, notwithstanding the fact that the download took place purely on Thailand's higher speed local links!

While 17 hours may seem like an awfully long time to have your computer locked up, it wasn't so for me because I had my Linux file server do the downloading (while my Windows client was left free to do whatever I do with it). A nice thing about BitTorrent is that you can easily stop and re-start it and BitTorrent will seamlessly pick up where it left off. I was ready to do this if the download started eating up all my internet bandwidth, but in actual fact, the impact on the other computers on my network was barely noticeable!

In actual practice, I can schedule things so that the bulk of the downloading is done during non-/low-usage hours. For example, I could start a download at night when everyone's gone to bed. The next moring everyone goes off to work/school and by the time everyone returns in the late afternoon/early evening, more than 15 hours of downloading would have already passed. If I wanted to, I could stop the download when everyone started using the internet again, and restart it again that night. But as mentioned, the impact isn't so great, so I don't even need to do that.

Not everything is available for BitTorrent downloading though, and even when it's available, it can be MUCH, MUCH slower to download than I've reported. But if I want something bad enough, I can always wait while it downloads in the "background". Some things I still have to obtain via ftp, while for other things such as the flavour of Linux that I'm using (K12LTSP), the only way to get updates is via the officially sanctioned "rsync". rsync selectively downloads by comparing the contents of files and its speed is somewhere between BitTorrent and regular ftp. It took more than 10 hours to upgrade K12LTSP v4.0 to v4.01 (both are Fedora Core 1), but it took almost 2 days to upgrade from v4.01 to v4.1 (FC1 to FC2). This slowness may have also been due to heavy rsync traffic given that v4.1 had been out for only a week.

21 October 2004

Wobble: Still More Site Changes

A few more site changes/improvements worth noting:
  • Visting the old Wobble website (https://www.tprthai.net) will now redirect you to Wobble Blog (https://www.tprthai.net/). What this means is that the old Wobble index.htm file (i.e. the entry point to Wobble) no longer works as it's been modified to do a redirect. However, all other files are unchanged and are still located where they used to be ... at least for now.
  • All of the old Wobble articles can now be accessed by clicking an "Article Index" link under the Archives Section. It still sports the old Wobble "look and feel" - as so it should since it's merely been linked to without any changes.
  • There have been some minor changes to the interface of the three main sections (front page, archives, categories), hopefully to make things more consistent. I even threw in the original Wobble logo, although I still need to finetune it a bit more.
  • I've signed up for Haloscan Premium. That means that you can now leave longer comments (3,000 characters versus 1,000 previously) and thankfully, the sex ads at the bottom of the comment page are gone now. That alone should be worth the $12/year fee.

20 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Zoomable, Scrollable Web Graphics

The other day, while browsing the website of Imperial Queen's Park Hotel (IQPH) in Bangkok, I was blown away by a map showing the location of their hotel (I was planning to attend an education fair there and wanted to know how far it was from a BTS station). The map, displayed in a small window, was not only scrollable, but also zoomable. Of course, I’ve used Yahoo!, MapQuest, and Rand McNally maps before that allowed you to scroll and zoom, but these tended to re-map slowly. IQPH's map, on the other hand, scrolled and zoomed almost instantly. Impressive!

The source code of the web page hinted that this bit of magic was accomplished by Macromedia's Flash (but of course!). And mother of all coincidences, at that precise moment, I was working with Petch to create a map to post on the company's website. Initially, we were going to use a regular, static map. But having seen this little eye-opener, we were strongly motivated to do something similar.

Unfortunately, the IQPH map page didn't offer any further leads. Doing a bit of Googling, I managed to find a product called Zoomifyer that performed similar tricks. (I was going to put up a demo here, but Zoomify's website already provides numerous links showing how its customers use the product, so it's best that you visit there instead.) And especially nice, Zoomify provides a functional, free version of their product called Zoomifyer EZ.

Zoomifyer works by breaking down a large graphic file into smaller pieces. When you scroll a Zoomify'ed graphic, these pieces are brought into view one by one. A bit of re-rendering may be required, especially at zoomed levels, but this technique allows you to view a large/high resolution graphic in pieces without having to (slowly) load in the entire graphic at the outset. This works nicely for maps, since you can scroll to adjacent areas to get your bearings.

On a related matter, Eric Fookes incorporated Zoomifyer technology into his Easy Imager product. Aside from being an image enhancer (reminiscent of the graphic file viewers I recently wrote about), Easy Imager is also especially adept at building "photo albums" that can then be posted on websites. Typically, these albums display thumbnails, which are then clickable to display each photo in all their glory or Zoomify'ed. A picture being worth a thousand words, I recommend that you check out the sample photo albums on Fookes' website. Also, check out JAlbum, a free, multi-platform photo album-making program that runs under Java. Unfortunately, JAlbum is currently incapable of performing any zooming or scrolling.

19 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Graphic File Viewers

For a long time now, I've been using ACD Systems' ACDSee graphic file viewer under Windows. It's a convenient tool for browsing photos taken with digital cameras and it also does a more than satisfactory job of basic photo editing (rotation, cropping, light/color balance, sharpness, etc.).

As with many programs I use though, I "stopped" at version 3.1 (circa 2000), even though ACDSee is now up to version 7. In actual fact, I've tried most of the versions post-v3.1 (and even paid for some), but didn't really like what I saw. In my opinion ACDSee, like many programs, has grown into a multi-headed hydra and is now far from the lean and mean tool that I need/want. If ACDSee were free software I wouldn't mind quite as much, but the frequent upgrade come-on's always make me think twice. In fact, if I had upgraded every time since my initial v2.x purchase, I would have paid for the program many times over by now.

Needless to say, ACDSee is NOT the only graphic file viewer around. Probably the best known freeware alternative in the Windows world is Irfan Skiljan's IrfanView. While I've tried Irfanview a few times and the program does seem capable enough, I was never comfortable enough with its interface to switch from ACDSee.

Pierre Gougelet's XnView is a recent discovery for me, and while it still hasn't supplanted ACDSee, at least it now co-exists with ACDSee on my computer (no doubt waiting for the day when I dump ACDSee). XnView at least "looks" like ACDSee and its usage is "relatively" intuitive for me. (I say "relatively" because below the surface there's a lot more horsepower than ACDSee v3.1 possesses.) More important, it's freeware AND it's available on a wide variety of platforms (Windows, Mac, Linux, Unix). Being able to use the same program on Windows and Linux is always a big plus for me

XnView supports an incredible range of graphic file types, including such oddballs as "Acorn Sprite" and "ZX Spectrum Hobetta" (of course, you may not consider these such oddballs if all you used were made-in-U.K. computers.) For me though, XnView's most useful feature is its ability to handle scripts. All graphic viewers, for example, tend to display photos in landscape mode. XnView allows you to create a script that can rotate batches of photos to portrait mode. This script can be saved, loaded and then executed with a single click. Furthermore, a combination of enhancements may be scripted, not just one. These scripts can even be run from a batch file, thanks to a companion program ("NConvert").

Clearly, XnView is a powerful program and admittedly there will be a learning curve before one can understand and master its more esoteric features. But I can do this bit by bit while waiting to cut loose from ACDSee.

18 October 2004

Random Ramblings: File and Archive Managers

I started using a file manager early in my (micro)computing career. Even though I've always liked using DOS (I still do) and am a fast touch typist, I also like the convenience of pointing and clicking to copy, move or delete batches of files. I still remember that during my short-lived CP/M days, I used something called Cweep, while during my DOS days, I used a program by Ken Flee called QFiler. Ironically, the program is still around today and I even downloaded a 9-year old update even though I don't use it much these days.

When Windows 9x became the mainstream operating system, I chose to use a program called PowerDesk instead of Microsoft's built-in Windows Explorer. (Note: I wrote a short piece about PowerDesk back in 1999.) PowerDesk is still around too even though it has migrated from Mijenix to OnTrack to finally (?) end up in the hands of VCOM. And yes, I still use it (the free version at least). I should point out though that there are a plenty of Windows Explorer replacements out there, including many free ones, of which PowerDesk is just one. I recommend that you find one that you like.

For me, PowerDesk has also proved to be a convenient tool to deal with zip archives. Unfortunately, it doesn't handle other types of archives as well - and given that program development has been glacial for so long, I don't expect it to improve much in the near future either. Most people may not have a need to use anything other than zip files, but being a DOS/batch user, I need an archiver that can handle long file names from the command line (no zip utility existed to do this at the time I was looking). That brought me to a program called ARJ, specifically the Russian open source fork of ARJ, not the commercial one. That in turn, led me to another Russian freeware archive manager called 7-Zip. 7-Zip was attractive because not only did it handle ARJ, it also supported its own native, high-compression 7z format, CAB, RAR, plus many Linux archive formats such as GZIP, TAR, CPIO, RPM and DEB.

With many programs that I use, I sometimes draw a line and say "no more" - meaning that I'm not going to bother trying newer, similar programs. I had expected 7-Zip to be one such program, but Charles Hodgson alerted me to a new freeware program called TugZip that changed my mind. Both 7-Zip and TugZip have little quirks that still bug me, but if I had to recommend one or the other, I would give the nod to TugZip because whatever 7-Zip can do TugZip can do more. In fact, I've started replacing 7-Zip with TugZip on my computers.

One last point. With more and more file managers being able to handle archive files natively, archive managers are likewise adding the ability to act as multi-paned file managers as well. This is certainly true of 7-Zip and TugZip. I may not be tempted yet to ditch PowerDesk and to start using TugZip as both a file manager and an archive manager, but I could if I wanted to.

16 October 2004

Wobble: Day Month Year

Yay, I've fixed it! To the best of my knowledge, every date reference now adheres to the day month year convention (i.e. either 25/10/2004 or 25 October 2004). This involved a dash of Javascript code in the template files. It also required some hair pulling debugging, partly because I haven't done any Javascript programming in two years. Of course, even when I was doing it, I wasn't very good at it, no thanks to Javascript's spectacularly unhelpful/non-existent error messages. Anyway, for what it's worth, the dates are now easier for us folks here in Asia to read.

14 October 2004

Wobble: Bells and Whistles

The look and feel of Wobble ("The Blog") has been bugging me a bit, so I took a day off from writing to add a few bells and whistles. Or rather, I just added features that every other blog worth its salt already has: i.e. commenting/trackback capabilities and a sprinkling of graphic links to show the "colors", so to speak. If you're curious what "trackback" is all about, read this. Just don't ask me to explain it. I've read it but I'm still a little blurry. Gimme time ...

This was my first crack at editing Thingamablog's templates. Not overly difficult, although I still don't understand what many of the tags refer to (this blogmaster isn't terribly smart, is he?). And I still don't like the MM/DD/YYYY date format (DD/MM/YYYY is the standard here in Thailand and most of Asia) used to divide the archive groupings, but that will have to wait.

The commenting and trackback modules were added courtesy of Haloscan, which a lot folks seem to use. Anyway, people can now leave comments/feedback - assuming, of course, that anyone actually reads this stuff!

13 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Salon.com

A tip. Several times a week, I visit Salon.com, an internet site that provides U.S.-related news and commentary that leans towards the liberal side of the spectrum. Many of the articles there can be read only if you are a subscriber to their paid service, Salon Premium. If you aren't a subscriber but still want to read the articles, you can opt to sit through one of their commercials, which then rewards you with a "one day pass" to all/most parts of the site. (No doubt, a "cookie" is placed on your computer that expires after a certain day/time.) The sponsor of the commercial changes every day and it usually takes about 30-45 seconds to watch and about 1 to 5 mouse clicks to navigate the pages.

Since I'm not a subscriber - and don't really wish to become one - I inevitably take the "commercial" route. While I used to dutifully sit through the commercial waiting for the "Next" button to take me to the next page, I've since smartened up a bit and instead spend my time reading other web pages while waiting for that slowpoke "Next" link to materialize.

Actually, there's an even better modus operandi - although it doesn't work perfectly everytime. When a commercial page appears, there is inevitably a "Next" button hidden on the page somewhere that gets displayed last. The trick is to find out where this button is hidden - the mouse cursor will turn into a hand pointing a finger - and to quickly click it so that you can move on to the next page. Sometimes this "Next" link is located in the same place on each page, sometimes it moves from corner to corner. In any case, it should take you less time to find the link than it would take you to wait for the page to fully render.

Sometimes you'll get fooled and click a yet-to-be-shown link to the sponsor's website instead. No problem - just click your web browser's "Back" button and try again. In time, you'll get the hang of it.

12 October 2004

Random Ramblings: SATA HDD's, DVD Writers

Over the week-end, Petch picked me up a Maxtor 80GB Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive from Zeer Street, the cost being a mere 100 Baht more than a Maxtor 80GB IDE model. My Windows 2000 computer now takes only 1:30 mins to boot, compared to 2:15 mins before, thanks to the SATA drive. Equally nice, adding SATA drives doesn't disable any of the IDE channels. According to the CMOS screen of my Intel 865GBF motherboard, there is now a port 0 and 1 for the SATA drives to complement the standard 2 IDE channels. With both SATA and IDE drives present, the SATA drive is the preferred boot drive. Unfortunately, there's no way for my motherboard's CMOS to choose whether to boot the SATA or IDE drive first. Petch's pretty impressed. Given the small price differential, the improved performance, the no-problem installation, and the smaller/neater drive cables, he's going to choose SATA drives from now on whenever he's asked to build a computer.

On the other side of the City of Angels, DVD-writers are blooming at Panthip Plaza! I had to go buy some monitors today and while waiting for them to cart the merchandise in from storage, I chanced to see at least three brands of 16x dual-layer, +/-, DVD-writers (i.e. Pioneer, TDK, and Lite-On) being sold in the 6,500-6,900 Baht range. Earlier this year I made a prediction that decent brands of DVD writers should reach the 5,000 Baht range by year-end. But I was only thinking about the single-layer models; apparently, the addition of dual-layer capabilities hasn't impacted the price of these drives much, if at all! Still, my prediction should still be on track.

The downside of these beauties is that you're going to have a hell of a time finding and/or paying for the media that makes the best use of these drives. While mid-brand 4x DVD-R's sell for only 20 Baht apiece, 8x DVD-R's will put you back 100-120 Baht each (they're not even sold in batches, only singly), while dual-layer DVD's will make you 500+ Baht poorer per disc. Very ouch! My guess is that these high end discs are in short supply and they're just not reaching Thailand. My guess too is that by early next year, we should see a perfect storm of great features and affordable prices for both writers and media, which may mark the beginning of the end for CD-only writers. So, unless you're in a desperate hurry to get a DVD writer now, I'd wait just a few months longer.

11 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Tiny Web Servers

These days I've been reading up on PHP, a server-side scripting language that's ubiquitous on non-Windows servers (Windows servers tend to offer ASP instead). The impetus for this was the need to implement on one of our servers a PHP program that was developed elsewhere. While the program did require some minor customization, it wasn't very difficult to implement since all I had to do was to upload it to our internet host which already had PHP installed.

The problem with doing it this way is that it's inefficient to upload and test program changes on our internet host (which is thousands of miles away). It would be much faster to run a tiny PHP-capable web server on a computer on our local area network. Actually, we have at our disposal a Windows 2000 Server with Internet Information Services (IIS) bundled, as well as a Fedora Core 2 Linux server with Apache. The problem is that both IIS and Apache are fairly "big" solutions. What I wanted was something small that I or anyone else could develop and test on wherever we were (and on practically any machine). That's what prompted me to look for a PHP-capable "tiny web server".

This really didn't take a lot of research on my part. I've known about AnalogX's SimpleServer:WWW for a while now. While SimpleServer runs under most any version of Windows, it can also be used for more arcane things like remotely installing Linux, which is what I used it for last. The problem is I couldn't find a way to make SimpleServer work with PHP - which is NOT to say that it can't be done given several hints to the contrary. Anyway, scratch that for now.

While getting ready to download the latest release of PHP from PHP's website, I noticed that Xitami was one of the servers specifically supported by PHP. Xitami is actually an old friend. 5+ years ago I was attracted to it by the fact that it was open source and available on a multitude of platforms. Anyway, it didn't take much effort to get PHP to work with Xitami, and I now have a local server on which to run the aforementioned PHP program. I also have a convenient platform for further study not of only PHP, but also MySQL which I'm also itching to learn.

10 October 2004

Wobble: And on the Seventh Day He Rested ...

And so will I. If you've been following Wobble since it woke up from its coma, you'll notice that I've been posting stuff every day of late. I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to keep this up. The good news is that my creative juices seem to be flowing again and admittedly, I DO have several more blog pieces already completed, but I'm going to keep them for next week. Time to do something else for a change. Ta.

09 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Firefox

More than two years ago, I said that I was back to using the Opera web browser. Well, sorry, but Opera was supplanted by Firefox not long after that. Actually, I started using it when it was still called "Phoenix" (and thereafter "Firebird", and now "Firefox") and was at version 0.5. I was actively working with Linux at the time and didn't particularly like Mozilla. So, Bill Thompson recommended Phoenix to me and I've been using it ever since (although ironically, I'm back to using Mozilla under Linux now due to laziness on my part).

Firefox has progressed nicely over the past two years, although it still gags on some websites, prints badly on others, and its Thai font rendering is a bit small for my tastes. But I love how it blocks pop-ups, I love having a Google search box close at hand, and I loved using something that up until recently, was outside the mainstream and not in someone's cross hairs.

A few addendums:

  • Firefox's recent default theme is awfully ... nay, painfully plain. So, I opted for the "Noia 2.0 (eXtreme)" theme by Kongkeat Kuatrakull (apparently a fellow Thai) instead. To each his/her own, of course.

  • A while back, I had trouble getting Firefox to work properly with Yahoo. The "fix" back then was to fool Yahoo into thinking Firefox was another, more palatable browser. To do this, I used Chris Pederick's User Agent Switcher, which allowed Firefox to masquerade as Netscape or Internet Explorer. (Note: Opera has this capability built-in). This Yahoo incompatiblity seems to have been resolved as I no longer need to do this smoke and mirrors routine any more. But it's a useful trick to have up your sleeve, in case you run into those Internet Explorer-only websites.

  • I use Firefox to open Word and Excel files on my Samba file server. (I realize that this isn't safe to do on the internet, but we're talking about a local area network here.) For some reason, I couldn't get Firefox to automatically open Excel files, despite the fact that Word files opened without a peep. I eventually learned that I had to teach Firefox how to handle this MIME filetype. But how do you do that - there's doesn't seem to be a way to do this within Firefox proper? The solution was to use the Mime Type Editor. Incidentally, the MIME type for *.xls files is application/vnd-ms-excel.

  • Like many people who have recently discovered Firefox, my sidekick Petch now swears by it. Not surprisngly, what turned him was the recent spate of problems with Internet Explorer, and perhaps the work he had to put in to install numerous patches and anti-spyware programs on almost two dozen computers. Anyway, he now installs Firefox on every computer that crosses his path, and even went so far as to hide IE's shortcuts on the computers at work. I'm not sure if I would have gone THAT far ...

  • Recently, Bill Thompson alerted me to FirefoxIE, a project that provides a makeover for Firefox to make it look and act like Internet Explorer. I just gave this a try and got mixed results. Frankly, even if it had worked out perfectly, it would still be a pain to perform these manual customizations on multiple computers. Clearly, a more automated solution is needed. Thus, I'm going to put FirefoxIE away for the time being, because after all, I don't mind using Firefox in its current form anyway.

08 October 2004

Random Ramblings: XOSL No More

While converting Wobble's Page 1 entries to Thingamablog format, I had the chance to re-read all of my past entries. Given that a lot of time has past since I wrote those things and as a way to get back my sea legs, I'm going to post some updated thoughts on these past entries in the coming days.

The last full-length article that I wrote more than a year ago was on XOSL, a freeware bootloader. Sad to say, XOSL isn't running on any computers that I use anymore, either at home or at work. The reasons for this about face are several:

  • My need to boot multiple operating systems from a single hard disk has now been mooted. I now have three computers attached to a 4-port KVM. One computer serves as my main work horse, a second computer is used when I need to do network related work, and the third computer accepts a removable drive that's ready to be loaded with any operating system that I choose to deposit on it (which I can do at a moment's notice using Norton Ghost). In addition I have a fourth computer, a server, running Linux that operates 24/7. If I have any non-disruptive Linux work to do, I can do it on that computer, either directly at the console, via an ssh client, or by booting from a thin client boot floppy (the server runs K12LTSP).

  • I had trouble getting my sidekick Petch to understand what XOSL was all about and why it was useful or necessary to use. I actually installed it on a pair of hard disks at work, but eventually removed it because I couldn't convince myself either that there was a justifiable reason to use it given that these were single purpose computers.

  • The fact too that further development on XOSL seems to be in limbo also influenced me somewhat. Not that I don't use orphaned software, I do, but ...
An interesting factoid: when you search for "XOSL" under Google, my original article ranks among the top 10 results found. If nothing else, this points to the fact that there have been relatively few write-ups of XOSL.

07 October 2004

Random Ramblings: NOD32

Like most cautious Windows users, I have anti-virus protection installed on my computers. Over the years, I've bounced back and forth between McAfee's VirusScan (VS) and Symantec's Norton Anti-Virus (NAV), the de rigeur choices of most Windows users. However, I've also had the occasion to try less well known programs such as Grisoft's AVG, and can even remember using Frisk's F-Prot back in the good DOS days.

Earlier this year, upon hearing news that NOD32 had arrived in Thailand, and being annoyed by almost daily multi-megabyte downloads of VS/NAV virus definitions, I decided to give NOD32 a good going over. Getting NOD32 is pretty easy - aside from a 30-day trial download, there was also a home version that was being sold for a time-limited promotion price of 199 Baht at SE-ED bookstores. (P.S. The promotion is over and the current price is now a still affordable 249 Baht. Also, the aforementioned prices are for one year of updates only.)

Bottom line: I'm sold. The program elicits a much smaller performance hit when compared to VS or NAV and updates are performed seamlessly (due perhaps to my broadband use). How good are its virus seeking and virus cleaning abilities compared to the big TWO? Well, there are reviews and there are reviews, just as there are lies, damn lies, and benchmarks. In my humble opinion, the differences aren't that significant so long as the company provides AND you get timely updates. As a default, NOD32 checks for updates hourly.

Another thing I like about NOD32 is that they have a wide range of higher level products. The next step up from the home version is an SMB (i.e. "small and medium business") version that includes the ability to set up a "mirror" server. On a local area network, only this mirror server would connect to the internet to obtain program and definition updates; all local NOD32 clients (assuming they're configured to do so), would get their updates from this mirror server at LAN speeds, thus saving time and oodles of bandwidth. This is how we have things set up at work and it's worked flawlessly so far.

The NOD32 folks also have a remote administration module that allows a network administrator to control all facets of all NOD32 installations from a central point. I was impressed by the power of this product and it could save a lot of legwork in large deployments. Finally, for Linux users, there are versions of NOD32 for Linux file and mail servers. I've had my eye on the former for a while now, but haven't actually tried it yet.

Perhaps what impressed me the most was NOD32's educational pricing which was VERY sweet indeed. For more information, contact/check out the local reps, ActiveMedia Thailand, at https://www.activemedia.co.th and/or the NOD Thailand website at https://www.nod32th.com.

06 October 2004

Random Ramblings: Panthip Odds and Ends

I went to Panthip Plaza yesterday to buy some parts to build a computer for a friend. In the recent past, I'd quickly get in and out, buying only things that were on my shopping list. This time, my buddy Petch did most of the legwork, while the "old man" (i.e. yours truly) sat and waited. To while away the time, I walked around, browsing nothing in particular. A few observations worth noting:
  • Several years ago, I "rambled" about the smaller-sized A4 Tech mice that I've been using ever since. This time, I noticed that numerous stalls were selling a wide range of brightly coloured mice. A pink one caught my eye and given that my 11-year old daughter Wow loves everything pink, I decided to buy one for her. As it was in my case, I felt that it best for her to use a smaller mouse that better fits her hand (she's currently using a regular sized Logitech mouse). Anyway, this mouse, aptly named "Cool Mouse", is an optical, USB mouse and costs an affordable 350 Baht. When I got home and plugged it in, I found much to my (and Wow's) surprise, that the mouse has blinking lights (pink and purple, Wow's 2nd favourite colour) on its underside. The lights even change when the wheelie is turned. Needless to say, this is a very "cool" mouse and Wow's tickled, uh, pink.

  • When I returned to Thailand more than a year ago, I brought back some 1x DVD-R's with me. On my first visit to Panthip after a year's absence, I found a few no-name 2x DVD-R's on sale, but frankly it was difficult to tell which were "good". Anyway, I tried a brand or two, but with mixed results. Not long afterwards, low cost 4x DVD-R's started appearing. Again, it was anyone's guess which brand to choose. I had long decided to stay away from the name brand stuff (too expensive) and the mid-range brands hadn't started selling DVD-R's yet. Anyway, the brand that I've settled on is called "Konco" and at present it sells for 1,000 Baht per 50 "Professional" DVD-R's. I feel comfortable recommending it because I've burnt more than 300 of these discs so far without a single failure. Incidentally, "Princo", the brand that I tend to buy for CD-R's has started selling DVD-R's now too, and at the same price level as the Konco's. I've only tried a small number of these, but the results have been flawless as well. (Note: Different DVD writers may work better or worse with certain brands of DVD's, so caveat emptor.)

  • Recently, dual-layer DVD writers that can burn 9GB per (single sided) disc started appearing on the market. As I use a DVD writer at work to back up data, having 9GB backup/disc capability is quite attractive. Of course, I'm going to wait until the price of such drives drop (albeit I would need only one) and more importantly, until such blank discs become more widely available (they're impossible to find at Panthip as are 8x DVD-R's) and at an acceptable price. For now, I'm most happy with the 20 Baht that I'm paying per 4.7GB DVD-R.

  • This observation is Petch's actually: he noticed that IDE hard drives are becoming harder and harder to find these days, with Serial ATA drives coming on strong. No doubt this is due to the their higher performance and the narrowing price differential compared to IDE. Me, I haven't tried any of these SATA drives yet, although I hope to by year end. First though, I have to see if they make a SATA compatible removeable drive tray.

05 October 2004

Wobble: Back from the Dead?

This is the first Wobble posting that I've made in over a year. Many times, I was tempted to add one last "Rest in Peace" posting to make Wobble's end official, but I always put it off for whatever reasons.

I haven't written anything in quite a while and frankly I'm not sure when a new piece will eke out. But hopefully, with a new look, feel and paradigm, this revived Wobble will stimulate me to start writing or at least rambling again.

Wobble's "Page 1" has always been a "blog" (before the term existed), but I decided to convert it into a true, modern "blog" format. Up to now, I knew very little (and still know very little) about blogs. My first instinct was to use the most popular blogging solution, Blogger. But after looking into things a bit further, I decided that I preferred to host the blog on my own server. And Thingamablog was finally chosen because: a) it's open source, b) I managed to get it up and running without reading the manual, and c) it runs without eating up a precious MySQL database on my server.

Anyway, a major clean up job still awaits. Many conversion errors still exist and I need to finetune the categories to make them more relevant. I haven't decided whether to convert the articles themselves into blog entries yet, but at least the on-site links still point to the original designed pages.