01 April 2007

Random Ramblings: Congratulations, It's A ... Notebook!

Yours truly finally broke down and got himself a new notebook computer. For the past 5+ years, I've been using a Sony Vaio ultra-portable. All in all, it's proven itself an excellent tool (albeit I only use it when I travel or when I need to hunt down network problems). But it was definitely starting to show its age, viz its slowish CPU speed (Pentium III 800), its limited memory (256MB), its relatively small hard disk (20GB), its lack of a built-in optical drive, its slowish Wifi (802.11b), and its limited USB (1.1 and groan, only one of those). Anyway, you get the point ... that I'm pretty good at rationalizing things.

Actually, it's not leaving the family. Rather, my wife gets it, which sort of makes sense since she uses it as much as I do. Looking for a replacement, I first looked at getting another ultra-portable. Using an ultra-portable is always a difficult compromise. It's great to travel with, but it's also a pain to type on. I'm a fast touch typist and therefore I get easily perturbed by non-standard keyboards. Of course, all notebook keyboards are non-standard for me these days, since I hate palm rests. When I learned to type, we were always told to keep our hands raised. Thus, I've always hated that added real estate between the edge of the notebook and the start of the keys, since I have to stretch my arms out to type.

My first instincts were to stay in the Sony family, but their regular notebooks were too weighty and their ultra-portables too pricey despite their excellent features. I seriously considered throwing weight considerations to the wind and getting a MacBook so that I could run both OSX and Windows at the same time (thanks to something called Parallels). I've owned a few Mac's in my time, but I was never really enamored by them (not that I particuarly like Windows either - I still stubbornly use Windows 2000 on my desktop computer). But no, I knew I would curse the gods when I had to lug it on my first interncontinental flight.

So I waited and procrastinated. The Sony ultra-portables were always there as a fallback choice, what I would get if I couldn't bear to wait any longer. Then all of a sudden, a slew of ultra-portables started coming out of other companies: Compaq, Acer, Fujitsu, Asus, etc. (not Apple yet though). To make a long story short, I settled on a Compaq Presario B1900 series ultra-portable. It's slightly larger, slighty heavier than my previous Sony, and hardly state of the art, but at half the price of my targeted high-end Sony choice, I was quite pleased.

So this week-end was spent configuring the beast. New comptuers always take me a day or two to fully configure. Hell, Windows updates already take several hours. But now it's done and duly cloned so that I won't have to go through this rigamarole again. And just in time for its maiden journey next week to gay Paris. Welcome aboard, kid!

29 March 2007

Random Ramblings: Nothing Earth Shattering Happened Today

Sigh, I don't have anything earth shattering to write about yet. I'm afraid it's going to take a while to get my writing engine rev'ed up again. But rather than remain silent, I thought I'd recap some of the software I'm (still) using.

In previous posts, I had written glowingly about John Haller's Portable Apps. The good news is that I'm still using them - more than before in fact. Portable Firefox (or more correctly now, Firefox Portable Edition) is still my mainstay. Internet Explorer is still lurking about (v6 not v7 thank-you), but I estimate that I use it only about 1% of the time now - i.e. when I absolutely need to.

And I hardly ever need it. Firefox's extensions have made things a lot more interesting. IETab has saved me from calling on IE countless times, Cookie Culler helps me to keep my cookies down to a minimum, FireFTP has mooted the need to use a standalone FTP client (even Portable FileZilla!), and FoxClocks helps me keep track of what time it is in Oregon, so I don't wake up my daughter in the middle of the night with a phone call.

I've just started to fool around with Greasemonkey, or more specifically with the wealth of scripts available. My GMail screens look a lot more interesting these days, and frankly, it's useful for playing (harmless) practical jokes on people.

In the area of email, I've stopped experimenting with this email client and that email client (The Bat, Pocomail, Sylpheed, etc.) and have totally given up on trying to get Eudora to work properly with GMail. So good-bye to Eudora too, but then it's planning to reinvent itself anyway. So now it's just Thunderbird (Portable Edition) and web-based GMail.

And thanks to JH, Portable VLC, 7Zip, Gaim, etc. are also in my stable of must-have apps.

Come to think of it, I've grabbed portable software from other sources as well. I use OperaTor when I need to web browse stealthily (for some strange reason I like it more than TorPark which is based on Firefox). I've dumped Azureus in favour of µTorrent when I need to do BitTorrent downloads. I use the one-file SIW instead of Aida/Forest/Sandra/PC Wizard for hardware/software inspections. And more often than not, it's FoxIT's Reader that gets called on to load PDF files, instead of Adobe's rather obese Acrobat Reader.

Even apps that weren't meant to be portable, I've tried to "portify" with pretty decent results. I don't need to install my file manager PowerDesk any more when I put it on another computer (although I do need to re-config it). Ditto for FastStone's Image Viewer, Capture. Finally, my text editor of choice, EditPad Lite was designed to play it both ways. To be portable or not to be portable, that is the question. Guess which way I have it?

22 March 2007

I'm Back, Sort Of, Maybe ...

Sleeping beauty has just woken up, after nearly a year and a half. Or put another way, I'm going to try and start writing again. I prefer not make any promises, so let's just keep our fingers crossed and see how things go. (One thing that bodes well for Wobble is that I've sort of retired from my job of the past 10 years, so that should free up a lot of my time. Plus the fact that I haven't written in a while, so the fingers are itching to write again.)

What prompted my return was that I was experimenting with Google Apps (https://www.google.com/a/). Two months ago, I signed up for an account and started playing with it. Like most Google stuff, though, it takes a litle bit of getting used to. The web component is especially frustrating. Granted, I'm not much of a web page designer, but I really would like a bit more control over what I can do. Realizing that I was severely limited in this, I tried to do a redirect to my own web server. Uh, not so easy to do.

With the help of an Italian (I think) fellow (name unknown) who has a nice batch of tips and tricks for Google Page Creator at https://www.polycrystalline.googlepages.com/poly.html, I was finally able to achieve this. By the way, the redirect was sent here to Wobble.

Meanwhile, my Thingamablog (which I'm still using - or more precisely, LEARNING to use again) has been upgraded from version 1.02 to 1.06. How time flies!