Don’t be cheap

Lesson of the week:

Don't skim on cheap CD-R when good ones are just a few cents more.

The time I saved (tens of hours) trying to install Ubuntu on my PowerBook using good CD-R verses cheap ones are thousands (if not millions) times the difference in cost (a dollar or so).

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Dallas Summit

Right now I am sitting at the Newark Airport waiting for my flight to Dallas to arrive, blogging offline. Every year, Thomson brings technology people from all of their organisations together to Texas to exchange ideas, compare experience, and most important of all, do some networking. So for the next two days, I will be spending time with people I hardly know but hugely important to my career, talking shop and mixing business buzz words with technology TLA (Three Letter Acronym).

When my company was acquired by Thomson back in March, we almost missed the opportunity to be part of this technology summit since the deadline for registration had already passed. But after a few well placed calls to high level development management, invitations were extended to my boss and me. It would be a big loss for us if we were to miss this summit due to its annual nature. And my boss and I believe we can bring a lot to the Thomson organisation with our Agile practice and .Net development experience (Thomson has only recently started on both, whereas we have been doing them for over 3 years now). Conversely, Thomson’s extensive knowledge in business analysis, software development process, and functional testing with FIT (Functional Integration Testing) would be very useful for our own project.

One decision I had to made this morning is whether I should bring my PC laptop or my PowerBook with me. Bringing the PC laptop means I can work on ecto or any work related programming while I am in Dallas but would I actually have the time or the inclination? With the PowerBook, at least I can blog with ease using all the tools that I love but I’ll have to be careful about letting Thomson people know about the Mac. If only it is a Macbook Pro so I can at least say I am trying out the new Microsoft development tool, Silverlight, on the Mac. And I can always dual-boot into XP on the Macbook Pro if I have to. Flimsy excuse, I know, but it is better than nothing. But I can’t really justify the cost of a new laptop, even a used one from eBay due to my lack of travelling, business or personal. So my trusty G4 800MHz PowerBook has to last for a little longer.

Oh, one last thing. Our official Thomson titles have been announced yesterday. Almost everyone keep their titles apart from me. I got ‘demoted’ from Senior Manager of Development to Lead Software Engineer. No change in pay which is good. How do I feel about the ‘demotion’? I think it is a good thing. Senior Manager implies a degree of managerial tasks that I perform when in reality there is nothing for me to manage unless my boss is out of office for extended period of time. So the new title reflects much more in line with my daily responsibility which can only be a good thing. Hey, they can call me a janitor as long as they keep paying me the same!

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Apple TV and why I want one

I causally mentioned to my friend at work who is also an Apple user that I may get the Apple TV when it is finally out. His reaction was, "What? Why would you want to watch video blow up?"

I explained to him that I want to watch my video podcasts on the TV instead of in front of my computer, despite the fact I have a very nice 24" LCD monitor. My friend just rephrased his question and wanted to know why I would want to watch low resolutions video on my 46" HDTV.

Then I realised that he thought all the video podcasts on iTunes are sized for the video iPod. He did not know some video podcasts are in hi-def, such as MacBreak which is in glorious 1080p. Others such as Diggnation and Merlin Show are in decent quality 480p which should scale OK on the big screen. But the most important of all are the TV shows that we've bought from iTunes: Smith, NOVA, etc. which we would not watch unless it is easy to put onto the big TV.

Yes, there are cheaper ways to get video from our macs to the TV but Apple TV takes the hassle out of the whole equation. Do I really want to figure out how to stream video from my Mac Pro to my PowerBook (probably using VLC), then onto the TV using S-Video (i.e. no HD)? How would I control the playback? Certainly not through a remote control and an onscreen display that Apple TV would provide. Do all these worth $299? To me definitely, probably not for most of you geeks out there. But then, I just want to watch video from my computer on my HDTV, not doing my annual geek certification exam.

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I know I need new computer when…

  • Web browsers (Firefox or Safari) run slow when iTunes is playing.
  • I can type faster than the browser can display sometimes (think back to the 14.4kbps modem era).
  • iPhoto takes forever to load, to save changes of photos, or to exports to Flickr.
  • Video podcast in 320×240 resolution drops frames when played. Don't even think about HD or H.264 encoded video.
  • And most important of all, eiron has a faster computer than either of mine!

Having said all that, my G4 800MHz Titanium PowerBook has been with me for over 4 years. And forcing it to drive my new Dell LCD monitor @ 1900×1200 resolutions doesn't help the speed matter either.

Now, should I prolong the suffering and wait till after Christmas to see if there is any bargains or price drop? Or I can just pick up one of those speedy Mac Pro from the SoHo Apple Store this coming Black Friday, especially with the 10% discount?

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QotD: All My Computers

How many computers do you have in your house? 
Submitted by Foomper.

Ok, let me count… I have two (a 15" Titanium PowerBook and a 15" Compaq laptop). Leah has three! (20" Intel iMac, 12" Aluminium PowerBook, and a 12" iBook) Ok, the iBook was kind of crippled so it doesn't count. The LCD screen's back light doesn't work any more after a liquid spillage caused by the other occupant of the apartment (e.g. not me).

I know having 5 computers in the apartment is a little on the excessive side but some of them will be 'liberated' soon.

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I've decided to upgrade my computers (plural because I have an old Apple PowerBook as well as a Compaq laptop) to the new MacPro near the end of the year. Probably after Christmas so I should get some discount. But since the MacPro is so damn expensive and doesn't come with a display, I decided that I will spread the cost of the upgrade by buying the display now, a few months before the main event.

In an ideal world where I have infinite amount of money in the bank, I would pick the Apple's 23" Cinema Display without a thought. But since I don't live in the ideal world, I have to look out for my wallet and bought the Dell 24" LCD widescreen display. It was delivered today and after clearing out the desk of all the crap and then connected both laptops to it (mouse and keyboard as well via a USB switch) the desk looks real cool now. Without further ado, here are some photos:

Those paper on the desk are about 10 months worth of bills, letters, and payslips. It looks a lot but if you think about it, it is actually very little considering that is 10 months!

I still need a wrist pad for the keyboard so I won't get pain in my forearms after long period of typing. And there is also a computer stand that is arriving tomorrow so I can stack the two laptops better, instead of just laying one atop of the other.

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Two into One

WWDC starts tomorrow and like most Apple fans, I will be following Steve Job's keynote tomorrow morning closely. Even though I did not plan to purchase a new computer at the beginning of this year because for everyday use, my Titanium PowerBook performs well enough, but I have been saving up for a new computer for the last few months.

The degree of how much underpowered it has became was painfully obvious whenever I use iPhoto or Photoshop. If that is all the computing power I need I can put up with my PowerBook until next year. However, I also have a PC laptop that I use for Windows software development. It is not the greatest and latest (only a Pentium M 1.3GHz) but it is powerful enough to allow me to code comfortably. However, having two laptops not only take up space on my desk but also means I have to make a conscious choice of which one to boot up. Actually whether to boot up the PC laptop because the Mac is always on and put to sleep when not used (I've never trusted the Windows sleep/hibernate capability, not to mention it is not quick like the Mac).

So with the Mac moving towards Intel chip and the ability to dual boot, not to mention the availability of virtualisation software (whether it is Parallels, or the rumored VMware), it means I can combine both machines into one letting me to run both OS X and Windows in parallel, switching between web surfing in the Mac and coding in Windows seamlessly. Then the question becomes, should I get a laptop or desktop?

Laptop is nice because it is compact, everything built-in, I can take it with me for traveling or even just to the bedroom. But it costs more, restricted in terms of upgrade, not as powerful as a desktop machine, and therefore not as 'future-proof'.

Desktop, on the other hand, will be as powerful as I can afford (or Apple makes available), allow me to use whatever peripherals as I like (large 20+" widescreen LCD monitor comes to mind), and I will be able to upgrade it as it ages (hard disk, memory, video card, or may be even CPU). And the price, after I've added everything I need to the list, will probably come to about the same as the laptop. The major downside is that I would not be able to take it with me, not even to the bedroom. I think that is a compromise I can live with, especially if I keep my PowerBook for traveling out of country or to the bedroom.

I did briefly flirt with the idea of getting an iMac but the inability to upgrade and restricted screen size and speed means I dismissed the idea as quickly as it popped into my head.

Now, Mr. Job, please show me what you got and I'll give you my hard earned cash in December.

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