09/05/2010

Mice, a mouse.

Posted by – September 5, 2010

How many mice (computer mice that is) does one go through in one’s life? I’ve never thought of that but I think I’ve had more than 10 the last what, 18 years.

My very first mouse was the one that was bought for our MSX home computer (made by ASCII Corporation?): it was overly expensive and initially (since the MSX software wasn’t really GUI based yet) it felt awkward to use. Only with the introduction of Windows 3.1 (for me that was probably around 1993) the mouse death race really started: I’ve seen Genius mice, Logitech and eventually (surprised that they’d started to make mice) Microsoft mice. I generally believe Logitech mice last longer but, that’s probably a personal (subjective) opinion. I do love Logitech’s ‘Trackman Wheel’ mice (which is something I use on-the-side): They are hard to come by these days as they are being replaced (apparently) by those ‘index-finger-based’ Trackmans. As far as I know, this Trackman is still the longest lasting mouse in my possession.

I’m curious about the future prospects of the computer mouse: With the rise of touchscreens (and the popularity of pen-based solutions) I wonder if the near future will make an end to computer mice’s ubiquity. The only use I’d see is for typical PC games.

10/17/2010: Looks like Logitech just released their newest trackball (CNet).

12/14/2008

You asked: Creative Live 24-bits review

Posted by – December 14, 2008

A couple of yearsCreative Live 24-bits ago, I bought a Creative Live 24-bit USB, after finding out that my latest computer’s soundcard did not include a wave-out mixer. The logical choice was to find an external USB soundcard and luckily I didn’t have to go too far (or dig too deep in my wallet). Two years ago, the Live’s went for around the 100 dollars (Canadian): nowadays they go for a lot less (the Creative site even has them listed between 45-50 dollars US). However, they’re generally considered to be an older generation of soundcards: Creative now solely focusses on selling you the X-Fi line of soundcards, which also includes a portable USB version, for a reasonable price.

But back to the Live!: It’s powered by USB, which saves you from having to use one ugly brick of an adapter. The device itself isn’t too big but is definitely not ‘wallet-sized’: it feels sturdy enough to tag along and throw around the room. Installation of software and drivers is needed, of course, and this is where my main criticism comes in: I’m generally not so impressed with Creative’s software and the same is true for the software that comes with this card. To be frank: I’ve never actually used the software because there are generally better alternatives available to mix sound and create music files (I use Audacity for this). The default Windows Mixer is replaced with the one from Creative and it’s even in use when the card is not plugged in. So, don’t expect the typical USB behaviour of ‘plug-in anytime anywhere’: if you’ve unplugged the Live and plug it back in, most likely you need to restart you computer to have your Live! sound come back (obviously, the box doesn’t come with a reset/on/off button of sorts).

The most important part of a soundcard is the sound of course: This is excellent and doesn’t disappoint. I’ve read that some people heard ‘clicking noises’ over time, but at this time the Live is still doing good. The MIDI sound handling is a bit poor, but if you don’t expect Roland SoundCanvas quality you may be able to get away with it. The card is also properly detected by many of the MID/DAW software packages out there: however, in some cases, you may need to poke through specific settings to get your MIDI In/Out going. Another nitpick is that the Live! doesn’t really have an ‘Audio in’ facility: this is actually shared with the Mic-in (The manual states this too, but I only discovered this after the fact of course).

So, if you’ve managed to find the USB version of the Live! online and you just discovered that your laptop doesn’t have a Wave Mixer, then the Live! is a good buy. If you have more money in your budget, and are a so-called audiofreak who likes to brag about the latest and greatest 7-1 Dolby system, you may want to consider investing in something else.

Minor update: I managed to get the card working on KDE too, but obviously you need to go through a lot more steps to get it actually going.

Update 2: This is probably a related post, using VirtuAmp (guitar plugged right in the box).

06/23/2008

Unused icons.

Posted by – June 23, 2008

When I was playing Call of Duty 4 online (earlier on xsamplex), I used to have a running joke when fellow PC players always asked me about my favourite mouse configuration: I said I was actually playing the game on a touch screen.

That was almost a year ago, and I just noticed that HP is (soon) to be releasing their newest touch based PC, probably well ahead of Apple. This is an exciting development, of course. But watching the demos on the HP site, this quote from one of the Flash movies which showcases HP’s Touch software (built on top of Windows Vista, it appears), makes me laugh:

Use the top row for programs you use everyday. Use the bottom row for your other programs.

For some kind of reason, I foresee a bright future for a ‘There are unused icons on the bottom row’-application.

11/18/2007

Made in WhereEverLand

Posted by – November 18, 2007

My Apacer multi-card reader just broke on me. Upon closer inspection, the pins on both ends of the CompactFlash reader seem to have broken off1. Maybe I was in a stage of ‘excited delirium’, which according to popular belief, makes me as strong as a super hero. But I digress: I think they make this kind of hardware intentionally fragile because they are massively produced in countries where resources are cheap.

It always strikes me as funny, though, to blame the product’s country of origin for any breakage. For some reason, it reminds of anti-Japan sentiments in the late 70s and early 80s (or anti-Malaysia and anti-Taiwan in the 90s) where, at that time seemingly, all electronic hardware came from. Labour in those countries was cheap, so many manufacturers decided to move plants to Asia, which allowed these countries to enjoy an economic boom. Sometimes quality and mass-production don’t go hand in hand2.

To get back to the Apacer card reader: obviously the CF’s pin structural design is at fault (it is way too fragile) as it broke in its first year of usage. So, I end up making the next calculation before I get a new one: I could buy a new reader every year for 20 dollars (‘cheap’) or I could get one that lasts me a bit longer for the price of 30 dollar (My Canon camera seems to have an excellent and solid mechanism for guiding CF cards in its internal memory slot, so I presume there should be sturdier card readers around).

While I’m at it: I recall comments my dad made about the rise of Japanese-made (cheap) products before the Second World War broke out. The quality of these products were (at times) ‘abdominal’ and fueled the belief of European supremacy over the Japanese, that is, if they (the Japanese) decided to go to war3. History tells us the opposite happened, of course.

1 For a moment I was afraid the pins of the camera might have broken off and were stuck in the card. However, I just checked my camera and it looks fine.

2 This is not an entirely fair statement: the point of mass-production is to get consistent quality (compare with the car production by robots), but if the initial design of the product relies on dubious cheap components then something is terribly wrong.

3 Obviously war was on the minds of the colonials in Asia, particularly after Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in September of 1940, well after the German Blitzkrieg successes in Western Europe.

11/08/2007

More power. Unix power.

Posted by – November 8, 2007

Last week, Walmart (evil Walmart) started to sell the Everex TC2502 gPC for only 199.00 US (Thanks to the high Canadian dollar, that is in or about 50 dollars CDN1, or for Europeans, that is 5 EUROs: yes, approximately the price of an ordinary pack of cigarettes). It’s out of stock because of three reasons: it runs Linux (an Ubuntu/Debian variant), it carries an extremely low power VIA C7 processor plus, well, it’s cheap. About that Linux flavour: it’s running gOs, a somewhat heavily-web-orientated Linux focused on delivering Google Web applications to the desktop.

I’m not sure, how I ended up at this link (Probably via Linux Devices), but if you consider the above option not ‘green enough’, how about a 12 Watt computer (using an AMD Geode CPU).

And to top it off: Phoenix Technologies introduced a firmware product called HyperSpace, which allows PCs to run a number of applications separate from the host operating system. It’s obviously Linux based (“secure Linux environment”) and the idea is (obviously) to allow people to repair locked up (Windows) systems (sort of like, Knoppix in the BIOS).

1 Hey, for a change it feels funny to say that

11/03/2007

Review: WPS54G

Posted by – November 3, 2007

For aWPS54G long time I’ve been looking for a print server so that I can access that Canon MF5xxx printer from the network, without resorting to leave a computer on all day (you know, via the regular shared printing mess). I finally managed to get the Linksys WPS54G (product description) from the local computer chain. It’s an older model so it is not too expensive (they go for 69 to 79 CDN). If you need access to a multi-purpose printer (you know the ones with faxing and scanning), you probably want to look for the WPM54 series of this device.

If you’re familiar with Linksys devices, the setup is always the same: generally, you grab an extra network cable, connect the device to your computer connect to the web-based configuration screen (using the default IP address, which is generally at 192.168.1.1, or the IP-address provided in the manual) and start changing settings. This isn’t true for the WPS54G: the default IP address is nowhere to be found in the manuals, so the only way to find out the device’s IP address is to start up the Print Server setup program and follow the on-screen instructions. I stopped halfway (right before it wants you to setup the wireless section) after the setup program revealed the Print Server’s IP Address (you guessed it, the device will look for a DHCP server first). This is where I changed the IP address and other settings straight from within the device’s web server (which will generally require a restart of your computer).

If you’re not familiar with networks and networking, the setup program will probably do for you, I guess: however, if you’ve found the IP address of the WPS54G, I’d recommend to assign a static IP address to this thing. You may need to make changes to your router, though.

The next step is to configure your desktop computers: there’s a portion in the setup program that will do this for you too but you can ignore that. If you’re on Windows, make sure that your computer’s workgroup matches the one you’ve setup on your print server. For all Windows versions, you generally go to Printers & Faxes, select ‘Add Printer’. When the Printer Wizard comes up select the ‘Local Printer attached to this computer’ (make sure to uncheck ‘automatically detect and install’). Then, ‘create a new port’ (type of port TCP/IP). In the next screen enter the IP address of the Print Server (use generic networking card/port), select the printer from the printer drivers list (notice that most likely your printer driver has already been installed because you have been printing to this printer before…) and then, print out your test page.

For the rest, the WPS54G works as promised in the flyers: it’s reasonably fast but it gets a bit hot though after printing a couple of jobs. You may also wish to upgrade to the latest firmware (you can download the latest firmware from here). You can configure a couple of goodies or ungoodies from within the device’s webpanel: I think I saw a couple of settings that allow you to send print jobs via e-mail, which may fill your uh, needs. And that’s basically it.

Nowadays, a lot of printer models come with networking capabilities. If you’re looking around for a new printer, it’s a good idea to consider one with an ethernet connection.

Feb 2nd, 2009: It looks like the WPS54G died on me. I’ll have to either look for the same model or see if I want to go look at the M version

Feb 4th, 2009: And here is the WPSM54G.

02/14/2007

You asked: Satellite A100-TA9 review

Posted by – February 14, 2007

ThereThe A100-TA9 we go again: you ask and I’ll take a look at it.

To start right off: It appears that Toshiba has been rushing to get laptops out before the official Vista release, last week. Their current A100 high-end laptop (the VA-9) features almost exactly the same case (the black/silver coloured one) but comes with slighly different hardware: for example the VA9 comes with a T5500 processor, while the TA9 has a T5600. Both are (as you probably know) Duo Core 2 processors (wikipedia). Other slight differences between the two is that the VA9 apparently comes with a 200 Gig harddrive, while the TA9 comes with ‘only’ 160 gig: additionally, the VA9 comes with Windows Vista Home Premium. Since the TA9 is basically a slightly older model (Fall 2006), it comes with Windows XP (or Media Center, generally). You may (or you may not) consider upgrading to Windows Vista (as discussed here).

More…

09/11/2006

You asked: Satellite P100 SD3 review

Posted by – September 11, 2006

Yes a Toshiba P100 SD3brandnew category at xsamplex: you ask, we deliver!

I’ve been working on a Toshiba Satellite P100 SD3 (action picture) for a while now and I generally like it OK. It’s priced fairly well (it’s currently available at Staples and FutureShop) for what you get: it’s Duo (T2400), it’s got 1 Gig and most importantly, it has a GeForce GO 7300 (128 MB) which means that it will play your recent PC games. Look for X3 here for what you can expect.

That said, I find the harddrive the slowing factor: the built-in HD (a Toshiba MK1032GSX) is not a fast drive, which you may notice when you switch from fullscreen apps (games) to windowed apps [CTRL+TAB]. I also find 100 Gig not enough, particularly if you think about the space Windows XP already takes up.

The other part I don’t like is the keyboard: For some kind of illogical reason, the most important keys (arrow keys, semicolon, period, pipe, single quote) have been made smaller than the rest of the keys just so that the board would fit a freaking numeric keypad. So, the right side part of the keyboard doesn’t feel ‘well-balanced’, particularly if you’re a programmer: all the important programming keys are twice as small as the normal keys on the left hand side (see the image above: you can literally draw a diagonal line that separates the small keys from the big ones, starting from the > key up to the upper Pause/Break key). I also have my doubts about the quality of the keyboard: I have had no problems with previous Toshiba laptop keyboards, so maybe I’m wrong. If you look into buying this computer, I’d recommend you try out the keyboard first: if you’re not a programmer, you may not even notice the keyboard issues. You may even love that extra numeric keypad. Oh: don’t worry about that sales representative. It’s your right to fully test a laptop’s keyboard.

I do like the screen and since it allows you, you may just as well set the screen to the highest possible resolution. The NVidia driver comes with plenty of gimmicks: most of the features you probably end up turning off. The big screen (17″!) seems to be the main cause of the lower than average battery lifetime: if you make it two hours on the standard battery, consider yourself lucky. I’m pretty sure it has nothing to do with the Duo core: actually, I find the T2400 perform excellent: for the power push test, try executing multiple applications that run multiple threads. It’s a damn well, efficient processor. Which makes me wonder how those other processor do (I’m particularly curious about those AMD Dual Athlon processors).

The low-down: it’s a remarkably well-priced computer. It runs Debian and Ubuntu with no problems, which makes this laptop ready for the latest and greatest stuff on Linux. Its Duo Core performs extremely efficient under stress (without generating too much heat, as far as I can tell). The Harman Kardon speakers are extra and produce excellent sound, and the screen, it’s huge, brilliant and perfect. However, I’ll be honest: if you can and are willing to spend an extra 100 dollars on a computer with a bigger (and faster) harddrive1, with the same configuration (i.e, 1 Gig, NVidia/ATI, Duo Core), you may want to look for something else. If you think you’re going mobile a lot, consider going for a laptop with a smaller screen: the 17 inch screens look l33t, but frankly, they just kill battery life. And, if you’re a programmer who types a lot, you may want to try the keyboard out before buying this: ironically all important programming keys that happen to be on the right-hand side of the keyboard have been made significantly smaller.

1 : Most laptops probably carry Toshiba HDs.

Extra Linux stuff (how to get the sound working back again)