Colin's Weblog

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Monday, March 16th 2009:    "Windows vs Linux Distros"

Boy, I cannot believe how long it is since I have made an entry here.  Seems to be a common thread for the last couple of entries.

Anyways, my latest beef is aimed at some of the Linux community.  Now before I put my "problem" in writing I will say that I have no real issue with Linux and the Linux community in general.  Competition for Windows and having an alternate OS that has strengths to fit markets and situations where Windows might not be the right solution can only be a good thing.  So this "rant" is not a traditional Windows vs Linux argument.

However, what has gotten on my nerve lately is that I have read and heard some criticism coming from the Linux community in the past about the number of versions of Windows Vista with these same statements being made about the upcoming "Windows 7" release.

What is their problem?  Are they making a generic statement to criticise Windows without looking at their own backyard?  How many variations of Linux are there? 

First case to point:    Looking at a pile of magazine discs at my desk at home I see distributions of:

Second case to point:  The April 2009 edition of the Australian Personal Computer magazine has an article titled Build your own Linux distro.  In reading the article I understand and acknowledge that a need and market exists to be able to create your own Linux distribution.  After all, with the right tools this can be achieved for Windows also.

So, for those Linux enthusiasts who have taken a shot at Microsoft for the number of Windows versions and who are making statements accusing Microsoft of making the process of choosing which version to buy confusing then take it from me that the same issue exists on your side of the fence as well. 

Also, I do not accept the argument that this is acceptable for Linux because it is Open Source.  At the end of the day the average computer user who wants to try Linux will not know what version is best for them.  So they will try a distribution that came with a magazine or was suggested by a colleague, probably no different than for Windows!!!


Monday, November 24th 2008:    "Call for Help"

Boy, doesn't time fly.  I cannot believe it is almost 4 months since my last post.  In doing so I want to go back to matters of IT and in particular, problems that just appear too difficult to fix ...... until somebody thinks of bleeding obvious.

We have had a printer problem in a small office where selecting a printer from the drop-down list in a Print dialogue box would take "ages" to display the list.  As there is no IT person on site and the problem was only evident on 2 of the 4 machines there, we were reduced to trying to determine the problem from almost 900 kilometres away.  In the end I gave up in frustration and called upon a computer support group close to the office with the problem.

This was a master stroke.  Not because they fixed the problem because they didn't.  However having eyes and hands on site got us down the right path to get the problem fixed.  You see the outsourced computer help found that whenever the machines at this office went to print the PCs were trying to access the Global AD Controller which of course was not at that site.  Being a small office this communication between the PC and the AD controller was going across a slow ADSL link.

So now that we were armed with this information I broadcast out to our global IT team the facts and what had been experienced.  One of the team suggested we use the postscript driver for the HP Colour printer and bingo, problem gone.

Moral of the story:  Don't be frightened to call for help.


Sunday, July 20th 2008:    "Printers and Paper"

Don't ever let anybody tell you that the quality of paper does not matter!!!  As a result of my redundancy we started to look at ways to try and save some money.  One area was paper for our printer.  We figured if we could save a few bucks that it would contribute to the ultimate good.

So we bought a ream of a cheaper brand than the usual Reflex that we normally buy.  The first things that we noticed was:

  1. The paper could not be the 80gsm that was marked on the packet.

  2. The surface of the paper appeared to be too shiny.

  3. The size was slightly smaller than A4 by a few millimetres on each side.

Regardless, we decided to use it.  Our printer began to experience problems about half-way through the ream.  The type of problems were printer jams and it would feed multiple sheets through at a time.  Not the end of the world but really annoying.

As the printer is at least 3 years old we thought then that it was time for a new one.  We saw a good deal in a catalogue, went to look at it and decided on another model that had better features.  As it would turn out we were fortunate that they had none in stock, so we paid for the printer under the promise that they would order it in.

Well, this week's events have us deciding to get our money back on the new printer.  You see we got a good deal on a box of Reflex paper.  The ream of cheap paper ran out last week and we started using the Reflex.  Since starting to use the Reflex we haven't had a paper jam or have it feed multiple sheets through.

So, it is true.  A printer is only as good as the paper that you put into it!!!


Saturday, May 24th 2008:    "Turmoil"

Well, the world got turned upside down almost three weeks ago.  Those who are close to me or work with me now know about the fact that I (and over 120 other employees of Albany) have been made redundant effective next year.  Has this turned our world upside and one of the most important things that was so stable in our life is not anymore.

Now that the stronger emotions have passed, there are some things that I would say to anybody who has not been through this before as words of advice if you find yourself in this situation:

  1. It may feel like it at first but it is not the end of the world.

  2. This is an opportunity that can be taken advantage of.  If you have enough notice like I do, take the first 3-4 weeks to just put ideas on the table.

  3. Seek financial advice straight away, don't wait to get your pay out.

  4. Don't be frightened to ask your current employer for some training to make you more attractive to the job market.

  5. Work your contacts.  Phone friends, relatives, business contacts, anyone you can think of.  These are important because only around 20% of jobs are on the "open market" (eg. newspapers, Internet, etc).

  6. Try to say positive and look for the good things.

  7. This includes people.  If you have people around you who are negative and don't mind communicating it, stay away from them until you take care of this.

  8. Don't make drastic changes to your lifestyle just yet, particularly if you don't need to and have sufficient notice.  Nothing will be more depressing than to do this when your ego is already dented and you are down.

I will keep you posted how I go.  My date given is end of March next year, so I have some time to go.


Saturday, May 2nd 2008:    "I Love My GPS, except when........."

Earlier this year my son started college about two hours from home in an area that we have holidayed in but don't really know that well.  Also, the roads getting to and from that area have changed over the years and this also applies to suburbs along the way.  So we decided to invest in a GPS and bought a Navman S30.

This has been a great investment.  I particularly like it for reminding me of speed cameras and red light cameras.  Not that I speed or like to run red lights but I do like to avoid getting fines.  The unit comes with a complete set of Australian maps and so it will be handy when going on vacation.

One of the negatives is the battery life is not that great for long trips.  A great investment is a Y-connector for the car's cigarette lighter.  That way you can power the GPS and another devices (ie. iPod, TuneCast, etc).

There are times however when the GPS frustrates the living hell out of me, such as:

  1. You go out.  There is a road closure on your usual route and you left it at home!!!

  2. You come out on highway into bumper-to-bumper traffic and the GPS cannot figure out which direction you are headed in, so it reports "In 100 metres turn left" when there is no road.  A little later it instructs you "In 150 metres turn left".

  3. When it decides to rattle off instructions in quick succession.  "In 100 metres turn left, turn left, turn left now".  Just tell me to turn left and be done with it.

  4. When it gets directions wrong.  I know it isn't the units fault but it is frustrating when it tells you to take the 1st exit on a roundabout which ends up being a dead-end.

Some tips. 

  1. When you first get a GPS, drive around town with it operating to get used to how it works and its annoyances.

  2. Don't leave it in the car, big attraction to thieves.

  3. When you take the GPS out of the car, take its holder with you or put it into the glovebox or centre console.  Same reason, thieves will assume a GPS in the car if they see its holder and you don't want a broken window, etc.

  4. Check its charge once a week.


Thursday, March 20th 2008:    "KVM Switches"

Towards the end of my trip to China, I got a phone call from my wife telling me that my computer would not work.  As I only had a couple of days until I was home I asked her to leave it and I would look at it then.  You see, I suspected that my existing KVM (keyboard video monitor) switch that allows me to use either of my desktop computers from one keyboard, mouse and monitor had died.

When I got home I was right but not for the reason that I thought.  My suspicion was that it had died but when I checked it I found that one of the cables had been "cut" by something sharp.  So, there went my plan to claim a replacement under warranty.  I opened the cable and it was a real mess, leaving me with little confidence of repairing it.

So out to the shops we went and bought a Belkin Flip.  What a fantastic unit.  Much better than my previous unit for two reasons:

  1. It also switches audio to the speakers.  My previous unit did not do this and so I was managing this with a couple of extension cables to the top of my desk and then mainually switching the speaker cable to the machine I was using.

  2. Rather than relying upon pressing the Scroll Lock key twice, the Belklin unit has a "flip" button that you press.  This button has an LED on the button with a ring that is green on the left and yellow on the right.  If you connect it correctly as I have the colours can correspond to the computers and when you switch between the computers the LED changes colour between green and yellow.

The only annoyances that I have found is that when switching it takes a couple of seconds to sync in whereas the previous unit was almost instantaneous.  Also, if there is no activity on the "selected" computer my monitor shows a message as if it is disconnected from the computer.  These are small annoyances that I can certainly deal with.

The price tag is in my mind reasonable at around $100.  Certainly much cheaper than an additional monitor, keyboard, mouse and speaker set and it is the only way to go if you are only using one computer at a time.

I would recommend the Belkin Flip to anybody after a 2-port KVM switch.


Monday, February 11th 2008:    "Games Consoles"

Games consoles!!  Even though I am in IT I have never been a big fan of games on PCs.  Oh, I play Tiger Woods PGA Tour and Rollercoaster Tycoon once every blue moon.

Our first games console was a Sony Playstation.  We bought it when my son was ill and needed an extended period off school and we thought it would be good to help him pass away the hours.  I enjoyed TOCA and any golf game I could get my hands on.  We actually still have this unit (or maybe an identical one that my son won).

However, hasn't this market come a long way.  Last September while in the US we had a bonding night where one of the locals had a Nintendo Wii connected to a big screen TV.  What a fantastic unit!!!  To be able to have such a games unit with the technology it has (ie. playing the controller with real life motions) in our Lounge Room is glorious and it has been great to have it.  My son turned 18 in November.  Here in Australia that is drinking age, so we bought a Wii to keep the kids active and to take the focus off drinking alcohol.

Not only was it successful (this was measured by the fact that nothing got broken and there were no holes in any walls) but it has left a lasting legacy.  Every afternoon when I get home from work I try to spend 30 minutes (I call it my time) to see if I can better my ranking with the Wii Sports game.

Tennis has been something that I mastered some time ago, now it cannot chart my progress on the graph.  It is way off the top at over 2100 (Professional is achieved at 1000).  Today I got two milestones.  Baseball has been difficult for me but finally I attained Professional level.  The second milestone was a perfect game (300) in 10-pin bowling.

These consoles have so many benefits my mother-in-law bought one for my wife's father to act as as exercise, etc to help with his illnesses.  So if you have kids or grand-kids or you just want a bit of fun yourself, get a Wii.


Saturday, February 9th 2008:    "Norton Irritation"

It doesn't take long in the computer world to find a reason to get upset with someone (or something).  I run two computers at home for my own use.  My main computer is running Windows Vista 64-bit and my old Windows XP machine (to do a couple of things that I can't do on the Vista machine).  On these computers I run Symantec's Norton Internet Security (NIS).

Well, today the older machine prompted me with a message that said I was eligible to have my NIS upgraded to the latest version.  I quickly read the terms and conditions, I agreed and was smacking my lips thinking I had a great deal.  The download / install process ran as expected and promptly rebooted the machine on completion.

This is when the surprise came.  On rebooting, the machine displayed a message to inform me that my 15-day trial of NIS 2008 had begun.  TRIAL. WHAT TRIAL?  Obviously I had missed something in the agreement I read and I really should have know better than to expect something for nothing.

Well, as luck would have it I am in the habit of purchasing Symantec's AV products for home in the multi-license packs to cover my machines and those of my family.  I had a spare NIS 2008 license available and therefore I was able to enter the product code to register the installation.

Moral of the story .... Beware of software companies bearing free gifts, they're not and rarely are free!!!