June 6, 2009

The Palm Pre: 8 GB Must Be Nice

I’ve just realized that the Palm Pre, with 8 GB memory, has 25,500% more memory than my Treo 650. That’s the actual math; I’m not kidding.

[My 2005-era Treo 650 — which I still use — has 32 MB memory, of which 24 MB of which is user-accessible.]

(For those curious, AppleInsider has a pretty good roundup of the major Palm Pre reviews that are already out. The reviews from Engadget and Pre Central are two of my favorites so far.)

April 21, 2009

Is This What RSI Feels Like?

Is this what RSI feels like?

As someone who types for a living, I’ve always kept in the back of my mind that I didn’t want to lose the use of those appendages. Back in college, before I really started thinking about this, I noticed some of the early signs of carpal tunnel and, after stopping by the campus health center, they did also confirm that I was seeing those types of symptoms.

After doing a bit of research on the matter, I then bought a Kinesis keyboard (video example) and, since then, I haven’t had any problems; I could type all day and my wrists felt as good at the end of the day as they did at the beginning.

Over about the past week, though, I’ve noticed a bit of an ache at the base of my pinkie finger in my mousing hand, right around that finger’s knuckle area. (I’ve also added a Note to that Flickr image outlining the general area.) At first, I wondered a bit if I had broken it, but after thinking about it, I realized that the ache was coming and going—which I presume wouldn’t happen if it had actually been broken.

I wasn’t quite sure how I’d describe the ache/pain, but I’ll give it a shot. It doesn’t hurt enough that it stops me from sleeping. And, if I’m watching tv or otherwise pleasantly distracted, I can usually ignore it. Every now and then, the pain does occasionally reach to the level where I have to let go of my mouse for a minute and let my hand rest. Or, to put it another way, if you’ve ever punched a wall or otherwise slammed your knuckle into a hard surface (by accident or otherwise), it kinda feels like that sort of pain.

So, what now? Well, if I have any say in the matter, I still plan on typing for the rest of my professional career. And one might think, “Well, let's just add some ergonomics in there.” All of that makes sense, I think, but what I'm finding to me the tough part is separating the ergonomic myths from the legitimate guidelines. Let’s take a wrist rest, for example—I honestly don’t know if that would help or hinder. On top of that, I’m not entirely certain how I would figure that out.

For instance, this page at OSHA.gov suggests:

“Use a wrist rest to maintain straight wrist postures and to minimize contact stress during typing and mousing tasks.”

On the other hand, this page from the “Cornell University Ergonomics Web” says:

Don’t use a Wrist Rest — research has shown that using a wrist rest doubles the pressure inside the carpal tunnel, because the floor of the tunnel is a more flexible ligament that transmits external pressure changes directly into the carpal tunnel (the roof of the tunnel is bone so the pressure doesn’t get transmitted on through the hand). […] ”

Now, I’d usually be more inclined to believe something if it’s posted at a .gov address (especially osha.gov, at that), but this case, it does seem that the Cornell page cites more evidence for its case. Come to think of it, after reading over that Cornell University Ergonomics Web page a bit more, it does appear that they know what they're talking about. I mean, when the footer of your page includes a link for “More information on our Mouse research studies”, that seems like a pretty good sign, no?

One way or another, I’ll need to take care of this. If you have any suggestions—even if they’re suggestions on how to tell the good ergonomics info from the old wives’ tales—I’d be open to them.

May 4, 2006

Memorex’s Useless FlashDisc USB Drives

I was reading through EverythingUSB when I came across a news item on the introduction of the FlashDisc from Memorex. Flash drives can be handy little devices, but these FlashDiscs come in capacities of 16 MB or up to 32 MB. The non-usefulness of of a flash drive that small was well summarized by the blurb on EverythingUSB:

If you are not excited by the prospect of a flash based USB drive sporting 32 MB of data storage, then you are like me and actually expect a flash drive to hold some data. 32 MB?! That's like spending $3 to buy the winning lotto ticket and then finding out the jackpot was only $5. […]

I've been pondering buying a flash drive — I’d probably buy a Lexar JumpDrive Mercury if they were selling them yet — but I’m not sure what good a 32 MB drive would be. (At that size, the files would be small enough to transfer quickly of ftp, eh?)

March 20, 2006

Preventing AIM Disconnects with DD-WRT

If you have a Linksys WRT54G router, then you may be familiar with the DD-WRT firmware. Or, in case not, here's a quick recap — the Linksys WRT54G runs Linux and, by its GPL nature, they’ve released the source code for their firmware; building upon that, many others have created firmwares with extra features.

The real deal is what the WRT54G can do, with the right replacement firmware, that you’d only expect to find on a commercial-grade router costing several times as much.

You could use the WRT54G as a repeater or a bridge. Create a wireless distribution system (WDS) or a mesh network. Run a VPN server. Or a VoIP server. Or a managed hotspot with a RADIUS server. Manage bandwidth use per protocol. Control traffic shaping. Support IPv6. Boost antenna power. Remotely access router logs. Operate the router as a miniature low-power PC, running a variety of Linux applications.

[…]

In any case, I’ve been running DD-WRT for several months now and it’s been working great. My favorite feature may be the static DHCP set up — you can define a MAC address for which it will alway receive the same ip address. (That can be pretty handy to ensure that port forwarding always works as intended.)

While the firmware is well coded, there are some circumstances where the stock configuration runs into trouble. The first major one is Bittorrent; apparently, the high number of connections can overwhelm its poor little mind. However, if you set “Maximum Ports” to 4096 and both “TCP Timeout” and “UDP Timeout” to “120 seconds”, Bittorrent should be back on track. (All of these options are under Administration → Management.)

However, I found that AIM still became disconnected from time to time. Well, to say that it was “disconnected” probably isn’t fair; rather, it would occasionally have a connection blip where it’d disconnect and then immediately reconnect. It was mostly only an annoyance, but I had wanted to get to the bottom of it.

As a first step, I installed the beta of v23 SP1 as I had recalled reading on the forums that a few connection-related bugs had been squashed since the v23 release. I followed the upgrade steps on the wiki, but I’d still occasionally see AIM disconnects.

After some further reading on the forums, though I read a recommendation for setting both “TCP Timeout” and “UDP Timeout” to “600 seconds” to remedy AIM disconnects. I gave it a shot and, sure enough, it worked. I’ve not had any AIM disconnects since then — and Bittorrent has continued working fine as well :).

June 12, 2004

Heat Insulators for Laptops: LapPads

This was mentioned earlier in the week on Slashdot, but I thought it was interesting enough to mention here as well. A company called LapLogic has come up with some heat insulators for laptops which they call the LapPad. The idea is that they reduce heat transfer from your laptop to your lap (as much as 57 degrees, apparently).

The Gadgeteer has a review and it confirms that the LapPads actually work, though the reviewer didn’t check CPU temperatures in the test laptop. Some of the armchair quarterbacks on Slashdot expressed concerns along those lines, saying that the heat would just be reflected back into the laptop; I’ll wait for actual measurements before I make up my mind about that.

Reading over of The Gadgeteer’s forum thread on the topic, a couple other products came up. One was the CoolPad, which seems interesting at first — especially since it can swivel — but the “stackable risers” seem like one more thing to lose (the tilt can be adjusted by stacking multiple rubber widgets).

Another interesting product is the KoolSink which is really just a piece of Aluminum bent into a wedge (it cools passively through convection). The wedge is even wide enough so that the laptop can be nested inside the KoolSink for traveling (there’re pictures of this in the “bonus” section at the bottom of their details page).

With the heat that my PowerBook gives off, I can rarely make it past 45 minutes on my lap; so, I’ll be buying one of these. The LapPads look tempting, especially since they’re foldable for traveling. And, the original reviewer mentioned in the forums that she’s found a CPU temperature app and she’ll be updating the review once she completes her measurements. That may be the deciding factor in what laptop-cooling device I’ll buy.

March 31, 2004

New PC Parts: Antec Sonata Case & Thermaltake Silent Boost

What started as a PC-upgrade project about a year and a half ago is now well underway. I’m upgrading just the motherboard/processor and the case, but it should perform like a new box after that. Ordinarily, I’d buy a higher-end motherboard in order to have it last through a few incremental upgrades, but I decided instead on a cheap Soyo motherboard as part of my new buy-cheap-and-buy-often strategy. So, the remaining decisions were the heatsink/fan and the case.

The case was actually an easy decision. A few months back, I read a review on Ars Technica for Antec’s Sonata case and it seemed to be just what I was looking for. In particular, the Sonata was designed to be quiet and that was one of my primary goals for this new machine:

OK, now we get to what makes this case special. Antec’s marketing term for its cooling management system is “Antec Low Noise Technology.” It consists of a handful of things, but the most important of these is the TruePower PSU that comes with the case. The TruePower 380W unit adjusts fan speeds based on the temperature in the case. Two Molex-connector power lines coming off of the PSU are marked as “fan only” lines. Those lines will adjust fan spinning speed (via voltage) to minimize noise, and frankly, it works really well. […]

In addition to the quieting features, I was also stoked about their innovative “sideways” hard drive mounting:

First, you can see on the bottom right that hard drives are installed “sideways,” that is, with the connector end facing you in this picture. This is a great design; it makes accessing drives very easy, plus it means that all of your drive cables can be made to easily run up the side of the case. […]

So, the case was an easy enough decision but the heatsink/fan was a bit tougher. At first, I had planned on going with a Zalman heatsink as it’s both an effective and very quiet cooler. However, I then saw Zalman’s motherboard compatibility chart where my motherboard was listed as not compatible (the only Soyo with that designation, natch).

So, I checked on Zalman’s other primary competitors to look for a suitable substitute. I first checked on Thermalright and since their heatsinks seemed a bit on the large side, I headed off to their support section to see whether any of their heatsinks would fit my motherboard. However, even though they have a motherboard compatibility list for each of their heatsinks, they’re not entirely comprehensive — my motherboard wasn’t listed on any of the lists (either way), so I was left unsure. I didn’t want to take a chance on buying a heatsink that wouldn't fit, so I crossed Thermalright off my list.

I next checked on Thermaltake and what first caught my eye there was their SilentTower. It uses heat pipes, which not only cools well but lifts the large heatsink well out of the way of any low-flying motherboard capacitors. In all, the SilentTower pushes about 52 CFM (about twice that of a normal fan setup) while remaining at 21 dB. This looked like just about the perfect heatsink/fan until I tried to buy one — it turns out that Thermaltake only released the SilentTower earlier this month and it wasn't available in stores anywhere yet.

So, I looked over Thermaltake’s other offerings. I had heard of some of their fans from their Volcano line, but I chose to avoid those they’re known for being a bit loud. But, their Silent Boost seemed more like what I had in mind. Granted, it only pushed 27 CFM, but it was only 21 dB and I wasn’t planning on overlclocking my box anyway. I didn’t see any motherboard compatibility charts on Thermaltake’s site, but the Silent Boost visually appeared that it would fit my motherboard easily (especially since it’s tapered towards the bottom).

So, I’ve ordered a Thermaltake Silent Boost ($25.75 w/ free FedEx Saver shipping from AccuPC) and an Antec Sonata case ($84.57 + $20 shipping from Provantage). Somehow seems as if my current PC has become even slower since ordering all these parts for my new PC — I can’t wait to assemble it and put it to good use :).

March 30, 2004

The Cheap-But-Often PC Buying Strategy

It all started on Thursday when I saw an offer for a free-after-rebate Soyo motherboard on DealNews (via the daily DealNews newsletter). Not that I was particularly in the market for new PC parts — I was trying to hold out for an Athlon 64 — but I was intrigued by this unusually good deal. As a first step, I looked up the retailer (Mwave) on ResellerRatings and found that they have a 8.73 rating along with a Gold consumer-excellence award.

From there, I mentioned it to Mike to get his thoughts on it (since he’s a professional IT Guy, I trust his opinion on this kind of thing). He confirmed that Soyo is a decent brand and he went on to say that his previous motherboard was even a Soyo (though he has an Asus now). Mike was even considering buying one for himself, until he read the offer details and discovered that the deal required a CPU purchase from Mwave as well.

Being the skeptic that I am, I figured that Mwave was overcharging on the processors to cover the costs of the motherboard. So, I cross-checked their prices against NewEgg’s. As it turns out, Mwave’s processor prices are actually lower than NewEgg’s (!). Mwave’s Athlon 2800 is $108 (compared to $116 at NewEgg) and their Athlon 3000 is $144 (compared to $166) at NewEgg.

At this point, both of us had all but discounted the idea of going for this deal. In Mike’s case, he already had a spare AMD 1700 and so he could have just about built a computer from spare parts and this “free” motherboard. But, with the required processor purchase, it would be far from a free PC for Mike.

And, in any case, I was only really considering this as a stop-gap measure to hold me over until Athlon 64s (Socket 939, specifically) became widely available. And, under that scenario, I would have bought a cheap Athlon 2200 or something to go with it (which would still work out to a decent speed upgrade from my current Athlon 700 for not much dough).

For those wondering why I’m even bothering with another PC upgrade when I already have a new PowerBook ;), I have my reasons. In the short-run, I still haven’t found an editor that I like on Mac OS and, in the long-run, I still need a PC for games (Doom III, Half-Life 2, and so on).

Anyhow, I got to talking with Mike about how we missed this great deal “by that much” (since it required a processor purchase). And, at that point, Mike shared with me his newly formed buying strategy which I like to call the “cheap but often” approach.

Summarizing my thoughts on the matter up until that point, it seemed reasonable to me that it would be cheaper to buy higher-end PC parts since they last longer between upgrades (as opposed to buying cheap parts which have to be upgraded much sooner). However, Mike expressed that, with the price difference between high-end and low-end parts, it's actually cheaper in the long run to buy cheap or mid-range parts, even if it means buying them more often.

Logically, his point of view made sense to me, though it was a little jarring at the time since it wasn't the way I was used to thinking. So, to prove it to myself (one way or the other), I decided to whip up a spreadsheet to calculate PC upgrade costs over time (using both strategies). As I made the spreadsheet, I held these assumptions:

  • A “cheap PC” will last three years and, after that time, neither the motherboard nor CPU could be migrated to the new box. That is, it’s assumed that the CPU is maxing out the cheap motherboard’s capabilities already and that an upgraded CPU wouldn’t be possible.

  • An “expensive PC” will also last three years; however, a refresher CPU could be bought at that time which would extend the life of the box an additional two years.

  • And, lastly, each “new” box would built by scrounging parts from the “old” box whenever possible — I wouldn’t be building a completely new machine each time.

And, for the spreadsheet to make sense, here’s what I have in my current PC with notations of which parts can’t be reused in the new box:

  • Asus Slot A motherboard [nope]
  • Athlon 700 [nope]
  • Western Digital 120 GB hard drive
  • Maxtor 10 GB hard drive [probably not]
  • Plextor CD-R drive
  • Pioneer SCSI DVD drive
  • GeForce4 Ti4600
  • Floppy drive
  • D-Link NIC
  • 1 GB PC3000 RAM (bought earlier)

With that out of the way, the spreadsheet is available in OpenOffice.org Calc format (7k) and PDF (62k). You may notice that the “now” section for the “Expensive Route” includes both an SATA drive and a DVD+R/DVD-R recorder (as both of those parts would allow the expensive PC to laster longer between upgrades). Not to worry, the “Cheap Route” gets those parts also, though only as needed (as part of the 3-year “Cheap Route” upgrade where it’s assumed that the motherboard of that time will predominately feature SATA controllers).

So, as you can see from looking over the spreadsheet, the cheap route is cheap not only in the short-run (as expected) but also in the long-run (which I didn’t initially expect). With the exception of Year 3, the cheap route remains cheaper than the expensive route right through the 8-year projections (even though it requires replacement parts sooner).

So, with the numbers in-hand, I ordered the Soyo motherboard and an Athlon 3000 to go with it. With FedEx Saver shipping, they should be arriving within the next few days :).

Update 03/31: The original spreadsheet had an error in one of the formulas, but that’s been corrected. The end result (the “cheaper route” being cheaper in the long run) is the same.

July 28, 2003

Another One Bites the Dust

As I was going to check my e-mail this morning, I found that the screensaver wouldn’t wake up after shaking the mouse. I then noticed that the PC was off and the power switch wasn’t having an effect either. I had a hunch that it was another dead power supply.

I dug out my power supply tester and, sure enough, it was dead. Dead power supplies are fairly rare, but I was especially annoyed that this was the second time this brand had died on me. Around this time last year, my original power supply died and I replaced that with a 300 watt power supply from JGE. Then, that replacement died only a week later and I replaced it with the same model.

That replacement last until today, apparently. But, I wasn’t going to be fooled again. I wondered about JGE’s quality control at the time and I’m now convinced that it’s not very good. So, I drove down to Fry’s and selected a 350 watt Kingwin power supply (I would have gone with 300 watts again, but the 350 was about the lowest wattage I could find.)

So, $50 later, I had a new power supply. I took it home and installed it: voila, a happy PC once more. Interestingly enough, a sticker on the box said “Silence”, but I figured that was just marketing hype. However, it was actually markedly quieter than my old power supply.

So far, I’m pleased with Kingwin. And, it’s bound to last more than a week ;). In any case, I won’t be buying JGE again.

June 24, 2003

Oyster Portable Computer Docking System

I’m on the mailing list for The Gadgeteer — they review gadgets of all kinds, though they specialize in mobile gadgets and accessories to go with them. Anyhow, their latest review was for the Oyster Portable Computer Docking System.

It’s a bit hard to explain, though I’ll try. It’s not so much a traditional “docking station” as a USB hub within a stand :). You open up the laptop all the way so that the screen is parallel to the keyboard. Then it goes in the stand such that the screen is upright and facing you. After that, it’s just a matter of plugging in the mouse and keyboard into the Oyster — it has an internal USB hub which connects to the laptop.

If that doesn't quite make sense, check out the pictures in the review and that should clear things up. Initially, it didn’t seem to me that there was much use for this. But, it started to make sense to me after a while. It was like having a universal docking station with the screen at a convenient height (and no monitor needed).

The Gadgeteer really liked it as well saying that “I can not recommend the Oyster highly enough!” (though I’m not sure I’d go quite that far). Of course, it is $200, but that’s still about half the price of a real docking station (I checked Dell’s site and they’re listed for $399).

March 19, 2003

Intel Centrino: Not so Revolutionary

Looking at the overhead tvs at the gym, I’ve seen some of the commercials for Intel’s Centrino. For those that haven’t seen them, it features a desk & laptop working in unpopulated areas such as a meadow or the middle of a stadium with the tagline that it’s “mobile technology”.

And, from all the fanfare, I was guessing that it was based on a nationwide cell network or something (like the Sidekick from T-Mobile). But, nooo — it’s just integrated 802.11b on the chipset. That’s it. Built-in Wifi — where have I heard that before?