06 July 2001

Random Ramblings:: Vipower Removeable Drive Trays

A few months ago, when I wrote about Linux corrupting my Windows hard disk and made a joke about hiding my Windows hard disk in the closet whenever I wanted to play with Linux - Bill Thompson suggested that I use removeable hard disk trays instead. While always curious about these devices, I never tried them, partly because I always believed they were complicated contraptions, requiring a special "back plane" inside the computer. But no, they don't. Anyway, I was intrigued, but since these sold for about US$30-50 each in the U.S., I decided to wait until I returned to Thailand where I heard they were much cheaper.

During a recent jaunt to Panthip, I picked up a couple of these. The ones I bought were made by Vipower (https://www.vipower.com). The most common models are the IDE DMA 33 and IDE DMA 66/100 models. Since I have ATA/100 7200 RPM drives, I opted for the DMA 66/100 model. (Actually, there's little reason to get the DMA 33 model regardless of what type of HDD you have - except maybe to save 50 Baht.)

These are all plastic models, perhaps not with the best electrical shielding possible, but they do work fine - so far. The drives are locked into place with a sliding latch on the DMA 66/100 model and with a key lock on the DMA 33 model. I believe these are NOT "hot swappable" drives - i.e. you must turn off your computer before you remove the drives. Fine with me.

The DMA 66/100 model normally sells for about 450 Baht at Panthip, but at TV.now (get off the glass lift on the 4th floor and the store is on your left), you can get them for 400 Baht each. Some stores sell spare inserts for about 250 Baht each in case you have several drives. When I showed these to my buddy Petch, he couldn't wait to drag me to Panthip to get some for the office. We have a "floating" 45gb hard disk that we use to back up data at two sites, and these removeable trays were perfect for this.

05 July 2001

Random Ramblings: A4Tech Mice

In the past few months, I've been experiencing some pain on the top of my hand whenever I use my mouse for an extended period of time. Having short fingers, I already avoid large mice and my current mouse (a Logitech) wasn't really all that big. I suppose old age catching up on me. For a while, I was tempted to switch to using a roller ball but decided to procrastinate a bit since I wasn't terribly enthused about spending US$30 on something I might end up not using nor liking.

Anyway, upon returning to Thailand, I noticed that my buddy Petch had bought some smaller sized mice for our new branch office. While these are not in the same grade as the standard Microsoft or Logitech mice, I thought they were pretty comfortable to use - especially for smaller Asian hands - and at 520 DPI, they track pretty well. I decided to get a few since their small size also suits my children's hands better.

The mouse I'm preferring to goes by the name of "My Baby Mini Mouse" and is made by A4Tech (https://www.a4tech.com.tw). (For some reason though, the abovementioned mouse isn't shown on their website!) They're found everywhere at Panthip Plaza and I've seen them sell as low as Baht 199 the for PS/2 only model. They come in two colors: silver and green.

30 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Panthip Plaza, Thai CD's

I've been back in Thailand for about 2 weeks now. Alas, I've been too busy re-acquainting myself with the wonderfully delicious and inexpensive cuisine that Thailand has to offer to do any serious writing. Having been sated somewhat in that department, I decided to exercise it off with some brisk walking at good old Panthip Plaza. It's still pretty much the same, although having lived in a U.S. city where there are no big computer stores, I better appreciate the incredible range of products that Panthip has to offer. And many of the prices are cheaper here as well - even the hardware. I picked up some 128Mb SDRAM for about 1/2 the price and a removeable drive tray for about 1/3 the price in the States. Loverly.

About a year ago, I was looking for some Thai cloth patterns for the purpose of website adornment. While browsing Book Chest at Panthip, I found 2 CD's containing Thai "kanok" et alia patterns, the type most commonly found in Thai architecture. While these weren't the cloth patterns I was looking for, I was pleased to add these to my CD collection nonetheless. I hope this is a foreboding of more Thai fine art/artwork to come, to be saved for posterity's sake so to speak. These CD's cost Baht 160 apiece and you can obtain further information about them at https://www.thisthai.com. (Note: The site requires Macromedia Flash 5.0 and alas, most everything is in Thai.)

Another Thai-related CD I found was "1,000 Thai's Toons" (sic). A Thai friend showed me this CD while I was in the U.S., so I already knew of its existence. The CD contains permutations of a traditional Thai cartoon character with a "pom jook" (i.e. hair in a bun on top of the head). Not terribly artistic, but cute. This too costs about Baht 160.

P.S. As I predicted, someone DID figure out a "magic" serial number for Office XP which bypasses the "activation" requirement - sigh, copy protectionists never learn. For more information, read: https://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,42402,00.html. And yes, Panthip is full of these.

16 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Ogg Vorbis

Another compressed audio format worth looking at is something called "Ogg Vorbis" (https://www.xiph.org/ogg/vorbis/). Vorbis' claim to fame is that it is open source and royalty free, unlike MP3. Encoders exist for a wide variety of operating systems: Windows, Mac, Unix/Linux, BeOS, and OS/2.

I tried a Windows/command line Vorbis encoder that created a 160 Kbits/sec file of 5.9Mb in size, just a smidgeon bit bigger than the plain vanilla MP3 (5.8Mb) created below. Much more interesting though, was that while using a Vorbis plug-in for Winamp, I found the sound quality to be closer to the original WAV file - i.e. BETTER than the MP3 file. Given that Vorbis is still a work in progress (it's currently at beta 4), this bodes well.

15 June 2001

Random Ramblings: mp3PRO

Speaking of MP3's (again!), an update to the MP3 format, called "mp3PRO", has been announced by Thomson Multimedia (https://www.thomson-multimedia.com) and Coding Technologies (https://www.codingtechnologies.com). (Note: Thomson Multimedia and Fraunhofer Institute developed the original MP3 specs). The big deal about mp3PRO is that the new encoding scheme creates a file size about 1/2 that of regular MP3.

Among the more popular Windows MP3 players, neither WinAmp (https://www.winamp.com) nor Musicmatch (https://www.musicmatch.com) have incorporated mp3PRO into their products yet. However, a free Windows player/encoder is currently available from RCA (huh, the dog and gramaphone company?) at: https://www.rca.com/content/viewdetail/0,1407,EI45159,00.html?. mp3PRO libraries for the Mac and Linux should be out shortly according to Coding Technologies,

RCA's freebie encoder only encodes .WAV files at 64 Kbits/sec (44KHz), although technically, mp3PRO is able to handle both higher and lower sampling rates. A test I ran comparing: a) a WAV file ripped from a music CD, b) a 160 Kbits/sec MP3 file created from that WAV file, and c) a 64 Kbits/sec mp3PRO file created from the same WAV file found that the latter two were pretty similar in sound quality (at least to my ears). The WAV file sounded best, but it ate up 51Mb of disk space versus 5.8Mb for the MP3 file and 2.3Mb for the mp3PRO file.

By the way, while mp3PRO files CAN be played on non-mp3PRO-aware players, the sound quality will suffer since the mp3PRO enhancements are effectively ignored. Music ripped at 64 Kbits/sec, instead of sounding like 128 KBits/sec with mp3PRO, will instead sound like plain 64 Kbits/sec. (Note: At a minimum, MP3's should be created at 128 Kbits/sec or better.)

14 June 2001

Random Ramblings: How-To Sites

Less than a week from now, I'll be writing this a mere 4 bus stops from the den of all inequities: Panthip Plaza. Yup, I'm going home - but only for the "summer". For the past few weeks, I'm been engrossed in all those nitty little "being away" things, like arranging for utility payments, re-routing my mail, putting my newspaper and cable TV on hold, and putting things into storage.

One of the biggest things I have to store is my car. As I had never this sort of thing before, I decided to see what advice existed on the internet. Well, I got my answer (i.e. disconnect the battery) and in the process, numerous "do it yourself" and "how things work" sites popped up - in the event I needed to do other worthwhile things like fixing the toilet.

Anyway, a few choice sites are:

13 June 2001

Updates: History of the Internet in Thailand

I just added some update notes to my "History of the Internet in Thailand" - i.e. a listing of important milestones of the internet in Thailand.

12 June 2001

Random Ramblings: DFX for Winamp

Speaking of MP3's, an interesting add-on for Winamp (plus other media players such as MusicMatch, Sonique, and Real Player/Jukebox) is something called "DFX" from Power Technology (https://www.fxsound.com). DFX is a plug-in that greatly enhances the sound quality of these players. It practically adds back whatever was lost when a CD track was converted to MP3. The differences are pretty amazing with/without DFX installed - MP3's are noticeably richer, clearer. and louder. A 14-day demo is available, otherwise the program is currently on sale for US$19.99 per player. Not extremely cheap, but good stereo equipment never comes cheap either.

11 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Mini Disc Players

For a few years now, I've gotten into the habit of listening to MP3's whenever I "worked" at my computer. But while it was an incredible joy NOT to have to swap CD's all the time, playing MP3's still meant being tied to your computer. When the Rio portable MP3 player came out, I was totally enthralled. Nevertheless, I never got one, although I never missed the opportunity to fondle it whenever I saw one in a store. There were too many things that bothered me: the cost, the limited capacity, the newness of it all.

Here in the great Northwest, I exercise by bicycling. The city I'm in has over 30 miles of dedicated bicycle paths and the prospect of listening to Beethoven's "Pastorale" while riding in the woods was finally too much to bear. I decided to do something about it. No, I didn't buy an MP3 player; rather, I bought an MD ("MiniDisc") player. Despite a few shortcomings, on the whole, I'm pleased with my decision.

Unfortunately, there's not enough room to detail the in's, out's, and how-to's of MD technology here, so an article is in the offing. In the meantime, if you're interested, the MiniDisc Community Portal at https://www.minidisc.org is a good place to visit.

10 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Defeating SDMI, Gnutella

The latest issue of "Wired Magazine" (https://www.wired.com) includes a story on how a group of Princeton University researchers, as part of the SDMI (i.e. "Secure Digital Music Initiative") Challenge, defeated several watermark schemes intended to copy-protect music files. Further details can be found at: https://www.cryptome.org/sdmi-attack.

Speaking of music files, with Napster thinning down, the Gnutella network appears to be taking up the slack. Unlike a few months ago, I can find most anything I look for on Gnutella now. If you're curious how this works, two of the more popular Windows Gnutella clients are "BearShare" (https://www.bearshare.com) and "LimeWire" (https://www.limewire.com). For other clients, check out Gnutella's home at: https://www.gnutella.wego.com; or more precisely: https://www.gnutelliums.com.

09 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Online Quizzes

Think your computer know-how is up to snuff? Try some online quizzes. Here are some that were designed for A+ certification: https://www.concentric.net/~Redward (click the "Quiz" button at the left). Sorry, but I won't tell you how *I* did. I haven't been able to find a site with decent Unix quizzes yet but no doubt they're out there. Meanwhile, here's a sample: https://www.ch.embnet.org/CoursEMBnet/Exercises/Quiz/quix1.html. P.S. Get all the answers correct and you can go to the next page.

04 June 2001

Random Ramblings: Toshiba Libretto 50CT

This past week-end, I dusted off my Toshiba Libretto 50CT, one of the early "sub-notebooks" before the genre ended up in limbo. This is a Pentium 75 machine with 16Mb RAM - a far cry from the Athlon 750 with 128Mb RAM that I use today. Despite this fact, the Libretto is a really neat, ultra-light (2 pounds), full-blown computer - EXCEPT for the fact that the keyboard is hard to touch type on and the battery (now pretty old and decrepit) strains to hold even an hour's charge.

The machine was filled with really old software. Since I never had a floppy drive for it, I connected it to my local area network and began reinstalling newer software over the wire. First to go was Netscape Navigator v4.05 and Internet Explorer v3.0. In went Internet Explorer v6.0 beta, until IE balked at installing under Windows 95. Fortunately, IE v5.5 didn't complain. Next, I waved good-bye to Office 95 and welcomed the same Office 2000 that I use on my desktop. Would Office 2K work, would it be too slow? Nope it worked fine and at a decent speed.

What really choked the life out of computer was Norton Anti-Virus (NAV). NAV being a pretty large resident program, it really slowed the Libretto down and rattled the hard disk to no end. Weighing the consequences of operating in non-"Durex" mode (i.e. without protection), I finally decided to remove NAV. To make things a bit safer, I then reset my email program to accept only tiny file attachments and also installed DOS-driven F-Prot. I also reminded myself that this machine would only be used to read/send basic email and to compose short pieces, so I didn't need a "kitchen sink" installation.

Incidentally, while browsing the internet in search of Libretto support sites, I found several references to installing Linux on "old Tiny". Frankly, I never considered doing this, but the thought does boggle the mind. Perhaps one day ...

03 June 2001

Random Ramblings: OfficeXP

I obviously wasn't paying very close attention, but Microsoft's Office XP (https://www.microsoft.com/office) was just launched this past Thursday. I was in several office supply stores today and noticed that the software is now on the store shelves (actually, on Microsoft's own cardboard shelves). Likewise, today's Sunday paper is filled with Office XP bundling deals. I wonder if the university bookstores have it yet and what the academic price will be.

In any case, I presume Panthip already has the software, complete with "cracks" and/or "magic" serial #'s. If you read my "Notes on Academic Windows 2K and Office 2K", be advised that Microsoft's new licensing pitbull is now out of its cage and has been unleashed on the general populace.

Do I intend to buy/try Office XP? Nah, at least not yet.

18 May 2001

Updates: History of the Internet in Thailand

I just finished an extensive brush-up of my "The History of the Internet in Thailand" and its accompanying update notes in anticipation of its appearing in an upcoming Post Database anniversary special. For those who've read it already, nothing has been added - it just reads a bit better.

20 April 2001

Random Ramblings: Dialpad's Working OK Again

For better - not worse - Dialpad World is back to normal again. It sounded great tonight. I'm still not sure what caused the problems I experienced several weeks ago, but today I tried Dialpad'ing on two computers with different sound cards, and both sounded fine. Maybe the communication links are better now. Or maybe it was due to one small LIE I perpetrated this time around - I told Windows that I had desktop speakers rather than headphones (which is was my setting before). Oh well ...

15 April 2001

Random Ramblings: Easter Eggs

Happy Easter! Although, hardly a holiday in Thailand, it's clearly a bigger deal in the U'.S., at least for candy makers who get to hawk their wares in a different seasonal wrapping (as they do for Halloween, Easter, Christmas, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Father's Day, 4th of July, ad infinitum). And lest we forget, there's also the religious/spiritual connotations for folks of the Christian faith. As this was my youngest daughter Wow's first full year in the U.S., I went a bit overboard and tracked down three easter egg hunts for her to participate it. Of course, easter egg hunts mean something entirely different for computerists. To them, "easter eggs" are goodies hidden inside software (occasionally hardware too) that are usually viewable by issuing elaborate keystroke sequences or code words. If you're curious what weirdness lurks inside your computer, check out The Easter Egg Archive at: https://www.eeggs.com.

14 April 2001

Random Ramblings: Recent Computer Acquisitions

Grab a hold of your seats because you may end up on the floor after hearing this - in the past 9 months here in the U.S., I've already bought SIX computers. (Okay, okay, only two were actually mine.) Three of these were name brands - Toshiba, Compaq, Dell - while the rest were self-built jobs. Buying the name brands were a particularly interesting experience since they were all purchased on the internet, practically sight unseen - the first time I've ever done this.

I started off by buying a Toshiba notebook for a friend's high school daughter from PC Connection's (https://www.pcconnection.com) website. PC Connection is a New Hampshire-based mail order outfit that I've had good experiences with in the past. Also, their overnight shipping rates are quite afforadable - order something from them today and invariably it will be on your doorstep tomorrow afternoon.

Next, a "built-to-order" Compaq Presario notebook was purchased from Compaq's own web store (https://www.compaq.com). Considering that this was a custom job, it too arrived in a relatively short 5-6 days. Unlike with the Toshiba, though, which had been pre-ordained for me, I was able to choose/spec the Compaq in its entirety. Better still, I get to play with it for a few months before it embarks on a journey home to Thailand.

My final name-brand purchase was from Dell Computers (https://www.dell.com). I was looking for a low-use, low-cost server with a name brand to provide some peace of mind. What I came up with was a Dell Optiplex GX110 desktop, a model that incidentally, is also sold by Dell Thailand. Having been burned by name-brand proprietary hardware in the past, I wanted to make sure that the Dell conformed to the standard ATX specification, so that I could change mainboards and/or cases if I so desired in the future. A call to Dell Sales confirmed this and another web order was placed. Like the Compaq, it too arrived in a relatively speedy 5 days. However, upon peeking at the back of the case, I found to my horror that the Dell did NOT use an ATX layout at all. To my disappointment, Dell seems to be another of those vendors bent on locking you into their proprietary hardware.

In the blink of an eye, I called up Dell Computer asking for a refund, giving as an excuse the misinformation given to me. I must say that Dell was rather good about the return, and although the return documents somehow got lost in the shuffle (must have been one of those people recently laid off by Dell), I finally sent it back to Dell at their cost and got every $ back from them in a matter of days. (Incidentally, I ended up building that low-end server from scratch myself.) Again, live and learn.

13 April 2001

Random Ramblings: Tivo

By far the most enjoyable "toy" I've acquired since arriving in the U.S. has been my TiVo digital VCR (https://www.tivo.com). While I had promised to write this up, alas, I've been enjoying it too much - nay, the whole family has been enjoying it too much - to put pen to paper (or rather fingers to keyboard). I can't wait for this to be available in Thailand (maybe another 2-3 years?). But it's already available in at least one PAL country - the U.K. - and hacks do exist to change the input video signal from NTSC to PAL, courtesy of Andrew Tridgell, of Samba fame. As Tridge says, we don't need PAL output, since most TV's in Asia are multi-system anyway.

Anyway, a momentous occasion occurred just two days ago. My Tivo system software automatically updated itself (over the phone) from v1.3 to v2.0. This wasn't really a surprise for me, as I've been following the news of this long awaited update for months now, and I knew roughly when the update would occur. Needless to say though, the update brings with it a plethora of new features. But equally important, it brought with it speedier operations. Last October, I noted that inside the Tivo box you'll find a computer mainboard with a PowerPC chip running a customized version of Linux (for a peek inside, check out https://www.9thtee.com/insidetivo.htm and https://www.ultimateresourcesite.com/tivo/photos.htm). Given that this CPU is a mere 66Mhz PowerPC (shades of 486's in this era of 1 GHz CPU's!), I was afraid that the TiVo's performance - which was already sluggish at times as it struggled to handle both its GUI and database functions - would only get worse. Thankfully it hasn't and in fact TiVo has managed to make it faster. Kudos guys!

12 April 2001

Random Ramblings: Dialpad Problems

A while back I gave a thumbs up to Dialpad's (https://www.dialpad.com) "Dialpad World" - an internet telephony service that allows a computer to call most any telephone handset in the world. When first launched, the sound was pretty decent and I didn't mind paying its modest price. However, in the past month or two, the sound has been downright awful and I've quit using it out of utter frustration. So cut off that thumb. To make matters worse, some phone card companies like Sprint are exhibiting similarly bad line quality when calling Thailand. Well, if nothing else, I'm saving money by not calling home ...

11 April 2001

Updates: Cable Modem

A short addendum was added to my cable modem notes. I recently had the opportunity to try out Qwest's DSL service. While it's 2x/3x better than 56K dial-up, my existing AT&T; @Home still beats the pants off of it. As cable modem service isn't available in every corner of the city I'm in (some parts are serviced by the same Qwest DSL but not AT&T; @Home and vice versa), it looks like I'm not going to be moving anywhere in the near future!

10 April 2001

Random Ramblings: Tax Time

Okay, if the U.S. won't apologize, I will. Sorry folks. Wobble is back from its maddeningly annual walk-about, coma, whatever you want to call it. I really hadn't gone anywhere - I was just preoccupied with a number of unpleasant matters.

One of those unpleasantries is U.S. taxes (it's almost April 15/16, a day folks of the Yanqui persusasion know well). As nearly 20 years have past since I last filed a U.S. tax statement, I decided to visit one of the local super-bookstores to update myself with this year's H&R; Block offering. Alas, while the chairs in the store were comfortable, the book would have required hours if not days of reading, not to mention "interpreting" (tax tomes are rarely written in understandable English). No, not a practical solution.

Taking the easy way out, I bought some tax preparation software instead (specifically, "TaxCut 2000" from the self-same H&R; Block rather than the better known "TurboTax"). Aimed at non-experts (computer or otherwise), the software was reasonably organized, written in understandable language, and came complete with helpful video clips. And with it, I was able to generate a reasonable looking Form 1040.

Ironically, though, TaxCut didn't (or couldn't?) tell me that I didn't need to file a standard 1040 at all. Instead, as a non-resident, I had to file a 1040NR and in fact, had until June 15 to do so (procrastination heaven!). Furthermore, I didn't even need to file State taxes either. All of this came from browsing the IRS's website (https://www.irs.gov), plus a phone call to the state's Revenue Department. Oh well, live and learn.