Tuesday, September 15, 2009

HP Pavilion tx2617ca Review

Raison d'etre

I'd been in the market for a new laptop for a while, but was holding off until the end of school to get one. I first spotted the tx2617 in December at Staples Business Depot, but spent some time considering other options, eventually picking it up in April 2009.

The tx2617ca is a "convertible tablet PC". The machine functions just like a normal notebook: but the screen has the ability to swivel 180 degrees and fold down over the keyboard to be used as a "tablet": A pen-input based computer.

I wanted a tablet computer for a number of reasons: Mainly, I am constantly taking notes and have a hard time keeping track of them: they either get lost, ruined or eventually buried in a binder in a box who-knows-where. And when I need to reference one again, I'm forced to dig though the myriad of papers dotting my apartment floor to find the one I need. I also loved the idea of reading web pages, e-mails, and e-books like actual books, doing digital drawings, and wanted a small form factor for high portability.

Being a computer scientist (and all around geek), a digital solution seemed right up my alley. I'd actually first seen Tablet PC's in Grade 10 (around 7 years or so ago) and was obsessed with them since then (Penny's computer book from Inspector Gadget anyone?). But buying one was hardly in my price range then (or now for that matter, but more on that). When I did purchase my first laptop in my first year of university, I strongly considered getting a tablet: but they were still pricey and underpowered compared to other machines on the market: I needed something more powerful, essentially a portable desktop replacement to replace my clunky (but reliable) Dell machine tower that served me through out high school. Although I was attracted to a slate-style model, I really need a keyboard for coding if nothing else. So I held off on the tablet for a few more years.

Fast forward to 2009. School was ending and I had some extra cash in my bank account. I had committed to buying a tablet PC. But a quick look at what was available left me in the dust: the majority of tablets I'd seen were still in the whopping $2000 price range. I did manage to find a online few for thirteen to fourteen hundred, before tax/shipping/warranty's/etc. Then I remembered the tx2617ca I'd seen and did some research.

The price according to Staples website changed significantly over the few weeks I'd been checking it out: from $1049 to $999 to $849. Online information and reviews seemed scarce at best, which could be a good or bad sign. I'd figured the machine was still decently new, and so there hadn't been too much comprehensive testing, yet. I did find its feature list however, and they were sending me to that geeky place known as "specification heaven":

Product Name tx2617ca
Microprocessor 2.10 GHz AMD Athlon X2 QL-62 Dual-Core Mobile Processor
(the marketing jazz says Turion but the system itself says Altlon)
Microprocessor Cache 1 MB L2 Cache
Memory 4096 MB (max)
Video Graphics ATI Radeon HD 3200
Video Memory Up to 1982 MB
Hard Drive 250 GB (5400 rpm)
Multimedia Drive LightScribe Super Multi 8X DVD±R/RW with Double Layer Support
Display 12.1" WXGA High-Definition HP BrightView Widescreen Integrated
Touch-screen, Convertible Display (1280 x 800)
Network Card Integrated 10/100/1000 Gigabit Ethernet LAN
Wireless Connectivity Wireless LAN 802.11a/b/g/n
Sound Altec Lansing speakers
Keyboard 101-key compatible
Pointing Device Touch Pad with dedicated vertical and horizontal Scroll Up/Down pad
PC Card Slots One ExpressCard/34 slot
External Ports
* 5-in-1 integrated Digital Media Reader for Secure Digital cards, MultiMedia cards, Memory Stick, Memory Stick Pro, or xD Picture cards
* 3 Universal Serial Bus USB 2.0
* 1 VGA (15-pin)
* 1 S-video (7-pin)
* 1 RJ-11 (modem)
* 1 RJ -45 (LAN)
* 2 headphone-out
* 1 microphone-in
* 1 notebook expansion port 3
* Consumer IR
* Integrated Stereo Microphones
Dimensions 8.82"(L) x 12.05"(D) x 1.23" (min H)/1.52" (max H)
Weight 4.56 lbs
* Integrated Fingerprint Reader
* Kensington MicroSaver lock slot
* Power-on password
* Accepts 3rd party security lock devices
* 65 W AC Adapter
* 6-cell Lithium-Ion (Li-Ion)
Operating System: Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit with Service Pack 1

Perhaps not the top of the market, but considerably more juice then my previous machine, and easily passing many notebooks at the time. With my previous machine getting on its last legs (at least until I give it a planned overhaul later in the year), I really liked that this machine had potential to replace it, not just supplement it. My first worries however were screen and keyboard size. I wasn't sure if 12.1 inches would cut it, coming from a 15.4 inch screen. And smaller screens usually meant smaller keyboards: something I dreaded from those nasty looking "netbook" keyboards.

When I went to have a closer look: there were none there! The machine was listed on the shelf, now for $899 on "clearance". But there was no machine there, so I had to ask. I was in luck: one left (probably the original demo machine). I asked to have a look at it: the screen really didn't feel small and I was pleasantly surprised to find a very full sized keyboard most of the alpha numeric keys actually being larger then those on my 15.4 inch notebook, at the expense of some smaller function and specialty keys. Since this was the last one left, I knew if I didn't buy it now I wasn't likely to find another any time soon, so I rang it up and it came home with me. I still had 14 days to return it if I felt the screen size would be a deal breaker. Finally, on to the heart of the review!

External case:

The machine itself feels very strong and well built. No flex on the case, and the swivel hinge feels very solid and doesn't seem to have loosened much at all in three months. No odd noises or clicky-ness, I'd be lying if I said the fan was silent, but its not too bad, it just gets loud when doing something processor intensive... The screen also feels very strong, its recessed in a bit from the case:

There are enough ports to keep you going: Gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB, SD card reader, 15-pin D-sub, 7 pin S-video. I really like the S-video since I only have an older standard definition TV set, it works great for watching movies, DVD's, etc (hopefully if I ever get a higher definition TV I can use the VGA). The optical drive works well, though I haven't used the Lightscribe functionality:

Also, the machine comes with a small media remote, which works great (especially when connected to a TV for watching DVDs, etc), though I'm still trying to customize its functionality a little more. It also has a finger print reader that you have to enroll your finger prints to use, though it only seems to pick mine up once every 3 tries or so, though I believe that's more my own fault. The stylus has a perfect resting place at the bottom of the keyboard, which is easily accessible no matter what orientation you're using the computer in.

It comes with a lanyard connecting it to the computer, but I don't use it since I found it got in my way when writing. Nevertheless, it's spring loaded and can fly quite the distance if you're not careful. One thing I don't like about the case is how the air vent and power connector are on the left and right sides of the machine (facing the screen) respectively:

Although fine when in landscape mode, when using my machine as a tablet, I'll most often have it in portrait mode (like a piece of paper), which means that you are either blocking the power connector, or partially blocking the air vent. Chalk this one up to poor choice on the part of the designer, though I tend to have the machine on the battery when I'm using it in portrait mode, so I use it with the connector facing me. Secondly, although quite light at about 5 pounds, I find the machine just a tad heavy to hold in portrait mode for too long (like a book). I find myself having to balance it against my legs, arms, or chest (hence why blocking the port or the vent is a problem). The screen has media keys which work good, as well as quick keys for screen rotation and Windows Mobility center. There are also "DVD" and "Quick Play" keys, but these only work if you use the HP Quickplay software (I don't), nor have I found any way to reprogram them. There are also media keys on the screen which function the same as the "FN" media keys on many laptops:

The memory, wifi card, and hard drive are all accessible from the bottom. The optical drive also snaps in and out with the flick of a switch: this came in very handy a few days ago when the tip of a 3.5 mm jack broke off in the audio out and rattling around inside, I was able to get it out simply by taking out the optical drive and guiding it through the slot:

The screen and video:

The 12.1 inch screen actually runs at the same resolution as my 15.4: 1280x800. The means I get the same screen real estate as on my old screen, albeit things being are a bit smaller. After a few hours of using though, I hardly noticed the screen size: it was plenty big for email, web browsing, and standard work (e.g. coding). I haven't done significant gaming on it, but it works good for our Stronghold Crusader and Civilization 4 LAN parties. Movies play no problem, and the ATI video card handles video output and dual desktop without issues (important for me). The screen is bright, but difficult to see in sunlight, even at maximum brightness, which is one thing I don't like. The second thing I dislike about the screen is the viewing angle. The horizontal viewing angle isn't too bad (from a standard notebook point of view), but the vertical angle is terrible. I would like to be able to see what's written on the screen in portrait mode when its just laying on my desk to the right of me, but you pretty much have to have it directly in front of you to see, and even then, your head needs to be tilted almost directly over it. I suppose it could be argued a good thing for privacy reasons, but I'd personally prefer the better angle. This is fine for a regular notebook, but not a tablet.

Comparison of viewing angles:

It also attracts dust and smudges like a magnet: be sure to have a cloth with you for cleaning readily (one was provided in my box with the machine). Note that the screen is not multi-touch, unlike the newer TX2's (something I'm afraid I'll regret with Windows 7).

The keyboard:

As mentioned above, I like the keyboard a lot, the keys are all plenty large for use. I do have some issues with the specialty keys, at the top right of the keyboard are the "pg up/dn/home/end/insert/del" keys. I find myself having to memorize the location of these keys because its impossible to read the text on them at a standard use distance. The F-keys are little easier to read than the other keys, and I do understand this choice so that the alpha numeric keys can be larger. I would have liked to see more shortcut keys on the screen itself, specifically for scrolling documents when reading them, since using the on screen scroll bar in tablet mode can be awkward.

Stylus and Touchpad:

The touchpad is completely covered in recessed dots, I'm not sure if this is supposed to make it more comfortable or easy to use, to be honest I hardly notice it. There's a button at the top to turn the touchpad on or off, as well as a vertical strip for scrolling. The touch pad works fine and is easy to use, but there's nothing spectacular about it either.

The stylus is awesome. It's thin and light (about the size of a mechanical pencil), easy to write with. The screen can pick up the stylus' location when hovering above the screen, same as a mouse's "hover function". The right click button is a bit hard to use, since I rarely pick up the pen in the right orientation to push it (you can also right click by holding the pen on the screen for a few seconds). You can also "erase" by using the opposite side of the stylus, which is neat though sometimes you have to press a bit hard.

The speakers and audio:

I'm impressed with the output from the Altec Lansing speakers, though I don't use them on a regular basis, most of the time I use the audio out, either hooked up to a pair of headphones (once again, a great pair of HP headphones came with the computer), or my TV. There's a third "HD" audio port, but I rarely use it. I'm honestly not sure what's its supposed to be used for (I don't think it supports 5.1 or anything that I can find).

Microphone and Webcam:

The computer has duel microphones built in above the screen, along with a webcam. The microphones pick up sound okay, I use it to chat on Skype with little issue, but you can't keep your mouth too far away. The webcam has a good picture, though I can't figure out if there's a way to "rotate" the image, otherwise you appear at the wrong angle when using it in other orientations.


The machine is quite speedy, the Athlon X2 is a desktop level processor. I usually keep it throttled with Vista's power options to about 35% with no noticeable degradation in performance (except for some movies and games, for which I'll put it up closer to normal). The machine has 4 GB of ram, and a 250 GB, 5400 rpm drive which I haven't had any trouble with. I have two partitions of roughly equal size (not including the recovery partition), one for Windows + software, and one for documents (I prefer this setup to protect data should I need to reformat the software partition). Visual C# is a tad slow compiling and running, though no slower then my old machine (I blame it more on .NET). I of course removed all the unnecessary bloatware from the machine as well as start up programs, and run CCleaner on a regular basis.


The wireless works good and has great range (better than my old machine), it's draft-N though unfortunately I haven't had the opportunity to a connect to draft-N router to see just how much faster it is. Curiously, the range on the WiFi is considerably smaller when it tablet mode, it doesn't seem any slower, but you have to be closer to the access point to connect (preferably in the same room). My guess is it has something to do with the placement and orientation of the antenna getting less signal when in tablet mode.


The heat from the machine is something that concerns me and I'm keeping an eye on. Although it doesn't get nearly as warm as my old laptop, it still gets a little warmer then I'm comfortable with. Although the case itself doesn't feel too warm, Speedfan tends to read between 55-60 degrees C, which seems quite warm. When the fan comes on, it pumps considerable waves of hot air out of the unit. The case also seems to get hotter when the processor revs up, such as during a virus scan. When in tablet mode, the screen also gets noticeably warm around the fan to the point it can be uncomfortable to rest your wrist on, which worries me (likewise the keyboard is warm going back to notebook mode). My guess this is due to the processor in the machine, and I keep the processor throttled even when plugged in to try to manage this. I have a few cooling pads, which I use if it's doing something processor intensive, but prefer not too so as to keep the smaller form factor (it's awkward to write on in tablet mode with the cooling pad because of the height raise).

Battery life:

My battery usually gives me about 2.5 to three hours of light use with the processor throttled. Obviously more would be better, but as mentioned the Athlon X2 is a desktop level processor so it sucks down a lot of juice, even when throttled. I also stretch this out by going to standby whenever not in use. So far, I've been happy with the trade off, though I might consider buying a second, stronger battery, I've also heard Windows 7 is getting more juice out of the batteries which I'm looking forward to trying.

Software and Tablet usage:

As mentioned above, I removed the bloatware upon installation, leaving mostly just Windows Vista Home Premium installed, along with the software I use. I was nervous about Vista at first from what I'd heard and having only used XP on my previous two machines. I was pleasantly surprised though, I've had few issues with Vista itself, though I am considering getting Windows 7 when it's released (having unfortunately missed the "grace" upgrade period of course), specifically for its touch screen features (even without multi-touch). One issue I did have is with Windows Media Center: it likes to crash a lot, so I've since switched since to Boxee, which works well expect I can't figure out how to get it on the external display without cloning. To be fair, I it would be cool to get a rockin' custom Linux distribution running the whole thing (I'd totally make it look like LCARS...), but since I do use it for mild gaming, that wasn't really an option anyway. Plus, my research indicates that touch support for Linux is barebones at best, especially with handwriting recognition (something which Vista absolutely shines at). Instead, I'm using VirtualBox to do Linux work, which even lets me use the stylus in Linux with no problems.

Using the machine as a tablet is pretty much everything I hoped it would be, in no small thanks to Vista's touch support. Vista comes with Windows Journal for hand writing documents, which works well enough, though I use tend to use Office OneNote instead because of its organizational abilities.

It's easy to write notes, diagrams and keep them all together. I'd like to set up some sort automatic note backup for important documents though. I love reading PDF's and E-books, I switched to Foxit reader over Adobe though, I find it works better with the touch screen and Adobe was crashing on me a lot. I also frequently use it in tablet mode just for general browsing, if I don't have to do a lot of text input. And even for text input, you have a couple of options. Usually, when the focus is in any sort of text box, an icon pops up allowing you to use the tablet features to enter text. I was quite shocked how easily Vista could recognize my (considerably bad) hand writing, without even running the training samples. There's also an on screen keyboard which I'll switch too from time to time, though to be fair for any long amount of typing, I'll convert to notebook mode.

I prefer hand writing when jotting and working though ideas so I can incorporate diagrams, etc, but prefer typing more formal notes (such as summaries, etc). Now, I can have both together and well organized. I could pick up using the stylus for touch input almost instantly, though I find using my finger a challenge and needing some practice: scroll bars for instance are hard to use unless you use your fingernail, as is anything small like tray or tool bar icons. Nevertheless, I do find myself often using the touch screen controls instead of the touch pad even in notebook mode, especially if I'm sitting up and its on my lap. In addition, it can be hard to "drag" things with your finger since you have to press a bit hard which creates more friction, thus it's tougher to move your finger. Note that there are two ways you can calibrate it: either for finger or stylus. Unfortunately you don't seem to be able to use both at the same time: if you calibrate for touch, your stylus is less accurate, and if you calibrate for stylus (like I usually have it), your touch is less accurate.

Here's some handwriting in Onenote:

Viewing a webpage (my blog! :)

Vista does do a few odd things with the screen: the rotate button always rotates counter clockwise, though I'd prefer it to rotate clockwise. It's also always trying to enforce what orientation it thinks it should be in instead of what I want it in (for example, I'd like it to automatically go to portrait mode when converting to tablet, instead of landscape like it insists on). It should either be controllable, or just let me choose the rotation by hand. Another quirk is that sometimes one of my "power/network/volume" icons will mysteriously disappear on boot and I have to restart to get it back. When turning on the external display, sometimes I have to click the command twice for it to actually activate, which I find odd. I do love that the remote simply sends KeyPress messages to the WndProc, so I can easily write support for it into my own programs such as my media player.


Main Pros:

* Sturdy build
* Powerful machine for all around use
* Touch/Tablet features are fantastic
* Gigabit Ethernet and wireless N
* Media remote/video out

Main Cons:

* Heat issues
* Poor viewing angle
* Heavier than I'd like for use in tablet mode

I am mostly happy with the machine so far and hope I'll get a lot of use out of it. I'll keep my blog updated on new information about it if I have any to share! Thanks for reading, hope this review might help some people out in the future. Take care!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Microsoft Office deal for university students: just $64 purchase price

Hi everyone,

For the last several years now, Microsoft has had a promotion on called "The Ultimate Steal": Basically, if you're a student a participating university (including my alma mater STFX), you can purchase complete Office 2007 Ultimate (not crippled in any way) for just $64. After verifying your attendance (which in most cases seems to be simply automatic with a valid school's email address), you can enter your payment information and get a download of the installer file along with a license key. I purchased this last year and have been happy with it ever since. Personally, I shelled out the extra $13 for a backup CD that came in the mail: and I'm glad I did as I lost the installer file, haha. Office 2007 has a lot of great features to get school work done: for me, the scripting abilites in Excel make for a great way to write quick data crunching programs and you can't forget Powerpoint for printing off those lecture notes. I think it's a great piece of software in general, and though I might not think it's worth anything close to the suggested retail price ($679.95 USD, ouch), it's definately worth $64, if it's a piece of software you think you'd like (and/or like bargins).

But wait! If you are thinking of buying it, you might do yourself a favor by checking out some of the great, free alternatives including OpenOffice.org, Abiword and Google Docs. I've used all the free alternatives, each of which has their own strengths and faults (as does Office of course). It won't cost anything to use them and you might just end up liking them enough to save the money all together. But if you feel they just won't cut it for you, Office is ready for your download (note: I don't think the Mac version is available in the offer, but I'm not sure so you should double check if you're an OS X user). I also wouldn't suggest trying this unless you can prove your enrollment if necessary, lest you end up with a much larger charge then you expected! I was fully enrolled at the time though and was never asked to send anything in.

Have a good year everyone!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Solution to the "Missing Square Problem"

Solution of the Missing Square Problem
Jason D.

Have you ever seen this "puzzle" floating around before?

This problem appears to make no sense what so ever…two triangles of apparently equal dimensions, consisting of smaller segments, appear to cover less area when rearranged differently...where did the missing block go?

Go ahead and try it for yourself (I used cut outs from graph paper as a starting point). Then come back and see if your solution agrees with mine!

The solution:

First, lets examine the larger rectangles. Each covers and area of (13 * 5)/2, or 32.5 square units.

The areas of the individual segements:

Blue: (2*5)/2 = 5 square units
Green: 8 square units
Yellow: 7 square units
Red: (3*8)/2 = 12 square units.

The sum? 32 square units. *GASP* neither triangle corresponds to the sum area of the segments.

In the top triangle, the area subtract the area of the yellow and green segments gives us 17.5 square units.

In the bottom triangle, this identical calculation yields 16.5 square units.

The different of course being *drum roll* one square unit. But WAIT! There's more.

The ratio of the full triangle is 13:5, the blue 5:2 and the red 8:3. These are NOT equivalent ratios.

We can look to our good friend Pythagoras:

Given the hypotenuse of each triangle is the square root of the sum of the other two sides squared, the hypotenuse of each triangle is:

Full Triangle: √194

Red: √73
Blue: √29

If this “triangle” is all that it seems, the hypotenuse of the red and blue triangle would equal that of the full triangle.

√73 = 8.5440037453175311678716483262397
+ √29 = 5.3851648071345040312507104915403
= 13.92916855245203519912235881778

√194 = 13.928388277184119338467738928513

So close! But the value is actually off by .00078027526791586065461988926674228

Lets look closely at the slopes.
Full Triangle : 5/13 = 0.38461538461538461538461538461538
Red Triangle : 3/8 = 0.375
Blue Triangle: 2/5 = 0.4

If this were what it looked like, then all the slopes would be equal. However, The blue triangle is steeper then the red, which is not as steep as the full triangle. This means that the hypotenuse formed by the two smaller triangles is not straight, and thus “slopes in” on one triangle and “slopes out” on the other.

The hypotenuse’s have different slopes, as the angles are different.

For n >= 5, this discrepancy is basically unnoticeable. But for n=4, n=3, you can see it quite clearly.

From a different perspective:

Still not convinced?

Pretty nifty. But wait just a darn tootin' minute…look at those numbers… 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13

Look familiar?

So if you’re still wondering where the missing block went, Fibonacci ate it.

The End.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Funny Out-Of-Office E-Mail Auto-Replys

Out of office replies can either be really useful (for you) and really annoying (for the people getting the reply).

To keep them from getting too angry (or not angry enough), here are some good responses to provide to people looking to contact you with some humor before you get back (hopefully).


Thursday, July 9, 2009

Office 2010: The Movie

Hi all!

Saw this today on Beyond Binary, and just had to share it. Probably one of the best commercials I've seen a long time, and not just for computer products. I had a grin on my face the whole time, who know Office could be so exciting? Well, there was that flight simulator back in the day...

Anyway, check out the full video at the link above or directly on YouTube. And don't forget to check out the official site.


Saturday, June 27, 2009

The Lego Computer...and more wacky cases

I was a massive Lego kid as a child. Whether it was space ships (which it usually was) or cars, air planes, or bionic suits, I had an active imagination and Lego skills to boot. Others liked K'nex or Megablocks but for me it was Lego all the way.

Which is why I really liked seeing this in my feeds: a computer case made entirely out of Lego!

Now believe it or not, this isn't the first Lego case I've seen. There are two other neat ones here and here.

In fact, I think case modding is really cool and something I hope to get into in the future. The site I linked to above, http://www.mini-itx.com, has a number of unique cases created around the "Mini-itx" form factor: a full fledged x86 computer on a mother board no more then 17 by 17 cm square. Given it's small size, it can be built into a variety of unique cases, though full size boards are also put into modded cases. I suggest to browse about the site and get some ideas for your own! Something a little nicer to look at than the traditional boxes :)

Friday, June 26, 2009

New Asus design = Commodore?

Last week, I posted about new technology (Twitter) being used on an old platform (Commodore 64). Today I saw a video from CES (Consumer Electronic Show) 2009 for a new "Netbook" style Asus computer: using a design that reminds me a considerable amount or the Commordore 64 and Vic 20 form factors. If you remember: the entire computer was housed entirely in the "keyboard" assembly, with all the ports directly on it, which hooked up to an external display. Asus new design also takes a full sized keyboard (albeit much smaller then the Commodore case) and sticks an entire computer in it...albeit with a small touch screen display on the side, about the size of a regular PDA screen. Together you have a light weight machine about the size of a keyboard capable of web browsing and email checking as well as other common activities which is entirely mobile.

I think the really neat thing about these machine though is the video outputs it carries which allow it to hook up to an ordinary sized screen. The keyboard has a HDMI connection which would (in theory) allow for some high definition videos to be played like a media player. The second laptop is also nifty: the regular touch pad replaced with a touch screen which can run its own independant computer which perform tasks without the main computer ever being booted.

The video for the Asus machines is here:

Also on the go are two new Thinkpads: one nice and small and the second extremely large with a secondary pull out screen. You can check them out here:


Monday, June 15, 2009

Tweeting on the Commodore 64

Hi everyone!

A fast note today to share something I think is extremely neat:
Using Twitter from your very own Commodore 64!

Yep, that's right. The ingenious Johan Van den Brande has created a Twitter client so you can view your friends updates and update your own twitter from the C64's beautiful 320 x 256 display!

Of course, you need a few hardware and software tweaks for an internet connection in the first place. There's a lot more information plus screen shots/videos on the site here:

Granted, my first computer was a Commodore Vic 20, not a C64, but seeing those screen images sure brings back fond memories! Enjoy.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Things that aren't standardized but should be

Hello everyone! Something a tad different today. Are you familiar with the International Organization for Standardization? Well, they're an organization responsible for publishing "standardizations" of various things which can be used internally for interoperability/communication purposes. For example the "ISO 7001" standard for public information signage defining a common set of symbols so people understand where certain facilities are even if they don't understand the language.

There are still many things not standardized and things that arguably shouldn't be.

I developed this list last summer for fun, things which have no standardization but, just maybe, should have some :). Enjoy! Note: most of the numbers have some connection to their "standards" but they might not be obvious at first ;).

ISO 0000 - Pronouciation of the word "ISO"
ISO 1337 - Short hand, alpha numeric language used in internet communication
ISO 1984 - Tetris
ISO 2063 - Warp Drive
ISO 7448 - Toilet Paper Quilt Patterns
ISO 6463 - Telekinesis
ISO 3141 - Pi
ISO 7399 - The Perfect Mate
ISO 77468 - Fingerprint
ISO 43278 - Love
ISO 98669 - Lust
ISO 12080 - Blood Pressure
ISO 666 - Evil
ISO 6663 - Length of time you may be left waiting
ISO 733 - Length of time to use the bathroom
ISO 2583 - Color of the sky
ISO 25324 - Smell of body odor
ISO 221 - Random Algorithm

What would you like to standardize? Let us know, and take care!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Using recovery partitions: curiosity + boredom can be a bad combination.

Hi everyone!

For the last couple of years, I've always tried to keep my operating system and installed components on a separate partition from my data. This way if I had to reinstall the operating system, I could just format and reinstall on the system partition, leaving the data unharmed.

Now, if you are installing from an OS disk (say, a Linux CD or a Windows disc), usually their installers allow you to select what partition to install to, leaving the others untouched. But, for a number of years now, computers do not come with OS reinstall discs (if you are using Windows). Instead, they come with "recovery partitions". This has both good and bad aspects: you don't have to worry about discs getting damaged or losing them, but you also have to make sure your hard drive doesn't get physically damaged.

The other annoying aspects of recovery partition is they don't just reinstall the operating system. They also reinstall all of the bundled software the PC manufacture installs (sometimes called 'bloatware') in order to make the cost of the computer cheaper (check out PC Decrapifier for a nice way to deal with this software). Still, it's better then not being able to reinstall the OS at all. Now, I've used my XP recovery partition a few times and always left my data partition untouched. Since getting my new computer, I had yet to separate the partitions as I haven't had time. I used Vista's built-in partition tool to do this (I had used some third party tools in the past). Vista's tool is decent, but it has problems, if you are having trouble using it I suggest this link. So after spending a few hours preparing everything I partitioned. As I was about to transfer my data over to the other partition it suddenly occurred to me: what if the new recovery partition I was using didn't discriminate against partitions? That is, what if it decided to ignore my partition and erase the entire hard drive (minus itself)? Well that wouldn't be good. After doing some googling I couldn't find a straight answer. I was really curious. And I was bored. So I booted into the recovery partition. I'd only intended to go enough through the process to see if there was an option or anything which indicated what partition it would install on. Unfortunately, one click too many, started the process and I couldn't cancel it. I hadn't moved my data yet. Oh dear.

Fortunately, the laptop is still new and there really wasn't anything on it I couldn't do without losing. Quite ironic how my attempted security precaution ended up making me lose my data! Not that I'm saying it's a bad precaution. BUT if you do decide to use it, it shouldn't be your only precaution, you should have other data backups in place. And, you should confirm that your specific recovery partition won't destroy other partitions. Hopefully with a less direct method then it took me :). If you are using Linux (with naturally keeps data on another partition), this shouldn't be a problem, and I believe (though I am not certain) OS X would also allow you to select a partition. I actually only did a recovery on OS 9.0 before and I only had one partition at the time. So I think it's a good idea, but not perfect.

A day or so later and things are back the way they should be. Hopefully I won't have to do it again, but it was a good experience, though one I hope others won't have to repeat. I probably could have come up with a better way to test, what might be another way to test your recovery partition without using it? Someone once told me if an asteroid destroyed your house and you couldn't get your data back you weren't prepared enough. Hopefully you have a few copies of things that are important :). Cloud storage in the future might help with this as well.

Take care all!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Trouble with delivery services

Good day, everyone!

I've recently been engaged with a rather difficult time with the delivery services. I began to think about the whole concept of delivery services and the internals of how they work. But first, what have my experiences been?

This is my second use of this service. The first was in 2006 when I ordered my first laptop computer from TigerDirect.ca. I was very excited as this was the first (or one of the first) time I made a purchase from the Internet. I got my "tracking number" from UPS and really liked being able to watch its progress on the Internet. I watched excitedly as it was transported from its shipping location (in Ontario I think) through the country to the town where I lived.

I had been given and expected delivery date (but not time, more on that later). I waited patiently in my apartment for it to arrive, but no one ever came to my door. The next day I logged in to check where it was. The status was no longer marked as "in progress", but rather marked as delivered. I didn't have my package. The name under the "signed by" was "WANG". Suffice it to say, I began to feel a little panicked. I paid for my laptop but didn't have it and it was marked as delivered. What was I to do?

I was still going to school at the time (this was the week before spring break), so in between my classes I was trying to get on the phone with them to track the package down. After a few days and hours on the phone, I finally tracked down my package to a distribution plant in a neighbouring town. Turns out, the driver came to my apartment building but only knocked on the door of the "upper level" (I lived in a basement apartment). My neighbour upstairs had a visitor who simply informed the driver that no one by my name lived in the building. The driver simply wrote "wrong address" on the package...and somehow Wrong turned into Wang and thus it was "Delivered to: Wang" (this after I looked in the phone book for Wang's, none of whom had my laptop, haha).

Or course, even after finally tracking it down, I had to get them to deliver it to me. At least this time they knew I was in the basement, but I only had a day (the Friday before I was expected to leave for the week). My brother's family had been planning to pick me to take me back...but the package would arrive anytime between 7 am and 5 pm. What was I to do? Well my drive arrived in the afternoon and, very nicely and patiently, they stayed and helped wait for my arrival. I felt really bad about asking them to do this, but really didn't know what else to do. So we waited...and continued to wait. Finally, we had to get on the road and really just couldn't wait anymore. I understood completely, I would just have to figure something out. We were literally on our way out the drive way when the delivery truck showed up. I was so happy nothing else was really mattering at the moment, my frustration with UPS fading away. I signed for the package, and held it on my lap in the backseat the entire way home cramped along with my friend who'd come to visit and my niece. I had my laptop and was good to go. You'll actually be hearing more about the laptop I purchased in future blog posts. Back to the matter at hand.

Fast forward three years. I've since purchased a new convertible Tablet PC and am in the process of designing a customized case for it (which I also hope to make the topic of some future blog posts). Since the case would be made of fabric, and designed in such a way as to use the machine while inside the case, I was worried about blocking the ventilation on the bottom of the machine. So I decided to purchase a cooling pad (my third, having two for my previous laptop) to build into the case. I wanted to keep using my previous pad (the first of which having broken), so I began the search for a new one. After considerable deliberation I finally decided on a Vantec LapCool 3. More on that later. I ordered it and paid for it, only to realized it was being delivered by UPS. Well, this time it would be getting delivered to my Mom's house, out in the open with visible house number signs, so it couldn't be so this time around, right? Of course, my Mom also couldn't be home all day waiting for some driver to arrive. So, I decided to call UPS and have the package delivered to the UPS store where I could go pick it up. Unfortunately, due to a mis-communication, I thought the package had gotten delivered and cancelled the request. I was wrong, and stuck without my package. Heading into the store, and providing my tracking number, I was informed that my package would actually be over at the distribution center which was closed for the weekend. I had to leave town, but my family members graciously agreed to go pick it up when they reopened. They opened. They went. The package? Not there. Apparently it had been shipped back the store I'd just visited on the weekend. In fact, the package had been in the very store when I was there. I'm really not sure why this information wasn't known while I was in the store. Nevertheless, the people at the distribution plant apparently thought the package had been picked up by me on the day I went. Strange. So, after paying a small "storage fee", my package was finally release and is now in the hands of my family. Unfortunately, its in another town. I intend to send them a few dollars (adding yet another shipping cost) to send it to me (either by Canada Post or the Bus service, both of which I have shipped with before and had no problems).

Now I understand that the folks at the delivery company see many packages a day, and that mistakes are bound to happen. To be fair, the people I dealt with at the company were quite friendly, and they agree to reimburse people for last packages if they cannot be found. This isn't so much a critique on them but rather on the process. Think about delivery to people's houses. This seems great in principle, but how well does it really work in practice? There are so many things that can go wrong, I'm not sure this is really the best idea. Assuming that the drivers know the streets of the areas they deliver in (which isn't too unreasonable), many houses don't clearly have house numbers visible. In fact, at my mom's house, multiple attempts to clearly display our house numbers haven't worked because they keep disappearing. Assuming the correct house had been found: what about time? How are you supposed to ensure that you or someone is there to take delivery during that time? Most people work during this time, and many others live alone and simply cannot be there.

So it’s a good idea, in theory, but it just doesn't seem practical to me. There are a few ways we can make it better. For example, having packages delivered to work. Unfortunately, you can't always change your delivery address from your billing address (i.e. credit card) very easily. And you might work somewhere that doesn't want this being done. I think the best thing is that if you are going to be delivering over an area, and if direct delivery is impractical, the best solution is to allow the customer to conveniently pick up the package on their own time. Of course, the places to pick them up must be common enough that it’s not too difficult or costly to get them, and where they can be operated at non-standard hours. The other services I mentioned seem to have a little of each, but of course you can't always choose who you want something to be shipped to you buy. Nevertheless, there's always room for improvement. I don't see any reason I was told my package wasn't there when I went to look for it, despite the fact that it was. Well, I should have it soon, so hopefully no harm done, but I will likely continue to try to use alternate services in the future. How do you deal with such restrictions on package delivery?

Take care all.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gmail notifier curiosity

Hello everyone!

I've been an avid user of Gmail for at least four years. When I switched over completely to Gmail in 2006, one of the things I didn't want to give up was the "notification" of new email I enjoyed through using Outlook (I wanted to use webmail alone, I didn't know about IMAP then).

Later, I found out about Gmail notifer which is a great solution. It sits in your system tray and once provided log in information will notifier you of new email. This worked great since my school email account was routed through gmail so I never had to check either by hand.

About 6 months ago, I created a second email account for more "official" communication. Since I hadn't been using it much, I wasn't checking it as often and got a wake up call when an important email came through that should have seen sooner (it worked out in the end anyway). Still, I wanted to be able to be notifed of email from both accounts. One obvious solution was to imply foward (or import) email from one account into the other: but I was hesitant on this for two reasons: 1) Despite Gmail's excellent searching abilities, I really wanted the accounts seperate; 2) I've had trouble in the past sending email out of a gmail account "from" a different account. My school email had a lot of trouble with spam filters because of this.

I was sure there would be a way to make Gmail notifer be able to handle two accounts: simply running two copies in my tray seemed the simplest solution (since each would have its own log in credentials). This seemed to work all right except for one cavet: Notifer would get "confused" on which account it was supposed to handle. Meaning that even if notifer would check two accounts at once, if I tried to open an account by double clicking the icon, it would go the the default account (what ever account I was logged into on the browser, regardless of what one was clicked).

My solution was then to always keep one account logged into in Firefox, and IE always logged into the other account. Again...this didn't quite work. If I had notifer "pointing" to account A and IE "pointing" to account B, then notifer would always notify me of the account that I was logged in with IE, regardless of what credentials I had actually supplied to notifer.

Strange huh? I thought so too, it seems as though somehow the IE login over rides Gmail. Oh well, seems as no matter what I would have to check at least one account by hand. I did try using another POP-tray notifer, but just couldn't find the simplicity of notifer with multiple accounts.

Don't get me wrong, I still think Gmail notifer is a great solution in many cases. Personally, I've gone back to using Outlook so that I can easily manage both accounts (and get notifications from both on time) along with my calendar. And using IMAP, they continually stay syched, so I always have access to my email history regardess of if I'm using Outlook or the web interface. This is a pretty good solution and I'm happy with it.

Take care everyone!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Thoughts on 'Star Trek'

Hi everyone! Recently on the weekend I had the opportunity to view the new "Star Trek" film, the 11th film in the movie franchise. I would like to share some thoughts on the film itself, as well as my personal 'Star Trek' history.

I can't recall exactly when I begin watching Star Trek, though a few clues I do remember help me to narrow it down. The first Trek I remember watching clearly is Star Trek: The Next Generation, and the first episode I can remember clearly is the one where Data begins to dream (Birthright, which also happened to be a DS9 crossover). This episode aired in 1993, the same year that a new broadcast station called MITV (later, Global) came to my hometown which aired The Next Generation (we did not have cable television and watched three over-the-air broadcast signals), which helps me pin this year down as my first 'real' exposure to it, at the age of 7 years old. I was immediately attracted to it, and continued to watch the newest episodes until its conclusion in 1994. I have clear memories of watching the TNG finale episode with my brother, something which was very exciting. The following year (1995), I watched the series premiere of Star Trek: Voyager and I think around that time (or earlier) I started watching DS9. I remember that both DS9 and Voyager aired consecutively on Saturday nights at 7 and 8 pm. I watched both of them until their finales, and reruns of TNG were aired Saturday afternoon at 4 and 5 pm, which helped me get caught up on earlier episodes. The Original Series also aired on CBC on Saturday's at 3:00pm which I watched too. Yep, that pretty much means at one point every Saturday I would watch 5 hours of Star Trek. I was quite happy. Anyway, coincidentally in 1995 another of my favorite programs began to air called Sliders. But more on that later, suffice it to say it would around this time my love of the science fiction/fantasy genre (as I also started watching Hercules and Xena around that time) which today continues to be a 'staple' so to speak of my life.

Back to the matter at hand, I consider myself a fairly involved fan of the franchise, buying (and building out of wood) my own Federation starships, toys and action figures, posting on forums and rewatching episodes many times. I even once had a homemade visor so I could be Geordi for Halloween. I'm certain there are bigger fans then I, but I have a broad range of knowledge across all five series and ten movies whereas other people may be more limited to subset. Admittedly, I was not a huge fan of Star Trek: Nemesis. I liked it for sure, but judging that I have only seen it a small handful of times (compared to the many times for the other TNG films at least) it just didn't seem to have as much draw as the other films. I was excited for the eleventh film as soon I heard it was in production, though like many fans I think, most of my hopes were for a DS9/Voyager film.

I think it was in the first year of university I heard the dreaded news: Trek 11 was a prequel. A prequel? You mean like Enterprise? I stopped watching Enterprise towards the end of season two, I certainly didn't hate it, it just wasn't holding my interest (I've since watched the remaining season 3 and 4 and was vastly enjoyed them). But I digress: I wasn't thrilled about the idea of seeing characters from the original series played by new actors in an story line that I suspected wasn't going to feel very 'Star Trek'. But, unlike some other fans, I committed myself to reserving judgment until I'd actually seen the film. Time past and I'd gleam a piece of information here or there, but knowledge was few and far between. Then I saw the first teaser trailer depicting the Enterprise construction and heard Leonard Nimoy's monologue and hope began to stir a new. That scene just looked so cool...maybe they could do this after all? If Leonard Nimoy was onboard (as other news sources had suggested) we might just be going somewhere. The subsequent trailers also raised hope that the movie wouldn't just plain suck, but I still had my reservations. There was one question I just couldn't seem to answer: was it going to be a complete reboot of the franchise (that is changing continuity) or not? I couldn't think of how it could be anything but. I then started to think that 'Star Trek' would be a good movie, just not a good Star Trek movie.

I was correct on the first thought. I was wrong on the second. From here I'll say this: some spoilers *are* ahead but I'll try to keep them to a minimum. I encourage you to see the film first. In a nutshell (I am fond of nutshells, btw), I was blown away by just how damn good of a movie, and of a Star Trek film, this just really was. Now granted these are initial opinions, I can't guarantee my thoughts won't change, at least a little, on subsequent re-watchings. First of all, those worried about changing continuity (as I was) need fear not. 'Star Trek' simply takes place in an alternate timeline/reality (read: parallel universe). In fact, some of my favorite Star Trek episodes involve parallel universes (TNG: Parallels, Voy: Timeless, Ent: In a Mirror, Darkly) so its not surprising that such a story line would immediately attract me (could also have something to do with the aforementioned love of Sliders). I largely judged most works of fiction on two principles: story and line and realistic characters. I enjoy other things as well like special effects (if a movie or TV series) and a decent interpretation of science being used, but these are secondary to telling a good story. Star Trek delivers that in abundance. I found myself relating to these characters almost immediately, and was engrossed in what happened to them. Since it's an alternate reality, you don't know how everything is going to turn out after the film, so really anything can happen. It also shows a very interesting side of Kirk, and answers a "What If?" question (that parallel universe stores are famous for), how might he have grown up without the influence of his father? Now, admittedly, my experience with TOS is not nearly as abundant as my experience with the latter series, so some of the conclusions/analogies I draw might have flaws. Now, the Kirk from the movie shares many of the same characteristics as the original Kirk, but he's not quite the same: he's less controlled then the original Kirk, which I would attribute to not having the experience of his father. I was impressed with just how well that idea worked out. I think Spock's history, on the other hand, is largely unaffected by the alternate reality so much of it is probably still applicable to the original Spock. There was one issue I had here: the other Vulcan's "teasing" Spock for being half human didn't seem very Vulcan-like. I can see them acting superior to him, even excluding him, but outright trying to provoke him? I thought it was odd...but it did set up a very important part of the film later. I loved seeing the Kirk/Spock first meeting at Kirk's hearing for the Kobayashi Maru "solution" (something we heard about in Trek 2 and probably happened more-or-less the same way as the original universe).

The remainder of the story line was well done: Nero was believable as a villain, and though the whole red matter/sucked into a black hole/time travel thing wasn't exactly believable, I learned looong ago that suspension of disbelief is important to enjoy fantasy as much I as I do (though its a plus when it's unnecessary). I think my favorite actor-character portrayal was the new McCoy: I loved how his character was interpreted (I think his 'Astrophobia' was downright hilarious), I also liked Scotty, but he wasn't in it as much as I would have liked to see. The rest of the characters were enjoyable to watch as well.

Now onto an important question for probably no one else but me: why was the alternate reality's Enterprise/technology seemingly more advanced then the original? Consider how the NX-01 seemed more advanced then the NCC-1701. One idea is this was at least indirectly due to some change in the original timeline (Borg incursion in 2063, 29th century tech, etc, etc). Of course, in Trek, sometimes time travel changes a reality, and sometimes, it creates a new reality. Now, assuming the NX-01 resulted from a reality change (not new) there are a number of ways we could transition from the NX-01 to the NCC-1701, but I think the best explanation is summed up by "In a Mirror, Darkly": just because the NX-01 looked more advance, doesn't mean it actually was. Now, assuming that the the NX-01 occurred in both realities (Scotty's Archer/Beagle comment seems to support this), then the new Enterprise is a logical transition from the NX-01. Anything that happened between the NX-01 and the building of the 1701 could have changed the design of the ship (Nero's incursion for one). But more importantly, both the NX-01 and the new Enterprise are 'futurized' versions of our technology, where as the original ship were of course futurized versions of 1960's technology. Now anything changing the future technological course between 1960 and 1990's (ahem, Starling anyone?) would impact the rate of technological advancement. In some realities, it would result in our 1701, and in others, a different one.

A few other small plot hole issues: Spock, in a rush to regroup with the fleet, just decides to thrown him off the ship onto a frozen planet? Yea, I don't think so: it was a waste of time and illegal. Should have just sent him to the brig/sedated him. But of course it was an important way to advance the story, so forgivable. A curiosity really. Oh, and exactly how long was Spock stuck on that planet before Vulcan was destroyed? I could be wrong, but it seemed to me he was stuck there a while, long enough to at least try and get some help.

The movie has something for everyone: for sci-fi (but non-trek fans) its a great stand alone sci-fi story: you really don't need to have any pre knowledge of Trek. For action-film people you've got plenty of that too. For others, there's lot of comedy, drama, relationships and a good story. And for the Trek lover: you've still got the ideology that Trek brings to our hearts: hope for the future, survival in the face of danger. Plus, there a number of clever (and not so subtle) nods to 'Trek' in the film: at one point someone will die, and you'll pretty much know who he is and why he'll die the moment you see him :). And there's plenty more.

The last few minutes of the film I kept expecting to see two things that didn't happen, but I thought would have been nice. Originally I expected Old Spock to try and return to the future (that is, his future, not the future of the alternate reality), but the I realized he is better off staying where he is, given what happens to Vulcan. Still, although its implied, I would have liked to see a more direct reference that the original reality Old Spock came from is, indeed, still intact and functioning (minus Romulus of course). And, something I thought would have been a funny line somewhere at the end of the movie:

Kirk: "So they gave us five years huh? We'll do it in three."

All in all, great movie. You might not like it (I know a few people who simply don't like science fiction regardless), but I think many people, old fans and new alike, will enjoy it. If this is the future of the franchise, as long as it continues to be handled well, I for one won't be unhappy. As Picard once said to Data: well done. Don't get me wrong, I'll always hold out a little hope for a new TV series, either in the old reality or the new one, and/or a continuation of the DS9/Voy story line, but we do also have other mediums for those.

Take care everyone.

The Beginning

Hi there all! Not expecting to have a lot (read: any) readers at this point but I would like to make a preliminary post to start my blog off with...at least for posterity purposes if nothing else!

So who am I? Why am I creating this blog?

Well the answers to those questions are one in the same. You see, I'm a thinker. Something I've noticed about myself is that there doesn't seem to be a moment in my day when I'm not thinking about something. From the time I wake up to when I fall asleep some thought it going through my mind. And they're not just "background" thoughts...I'm very consciously aware of them. I don't know if its like this for everyone or not, but nonetheless, sometimes in order to sort through thoughts you have to get them out of your head. Since I don't have a penseive like a certain white bearded wizard, I'm hoping this blog will help get some ideas out there, and maybe expose a few people to some ideas they haven't thought of before, and if that helps them with their lives, so much the better. And it'll help me too....I often find myself in need of feedback on my thoughts, since I'm often trying to find solutions to problems. I debate things with myself often, but like debugging a program, sometimes you need a second set of eyes to see where a flaw might be. I'm not planning on having a single 'topic' that this blog will be about, the thoughts I have tend to be on a large body of topics, but over time a common theme might develop. I think I'll probalby be starting off a lot of topics with "I think". My first 'real' post should hopefully be up in a few days, I've started thinking about the topic and am just working on how I want to say it...suffice it to say it shall be on a popular movie I recently watched.

In the meantime, please note the following things:

1) This blog will never intend to harm anyone in anyway. I guarentee there's going to be at least a thought or two of mine you disagree on. Disagreement of an opinion should not be considered a personal 'attack' on oneself. In fact, I've given that a great deal of thought and at some point will probably write an entire post on it.
2) I'm a scientist. Although I'm a specific kind of scientist, above all else that means I follow the scientific method: observe, hypothesize, test, reformulate. I don't just do this in my work, I tend to apply it to all aspects of my life. In a nutshell it means I follow two principles: logical argumentation and evidence. A logical argument is not proof in and of itself of the reality of what is being argued. Although academically this is often considered the difference between a 'valid' and 'sound' argument, I've found that many people have difficulty seperating the two concepts. Something else that I hope to expand on.
3) I'm a fun guy. I like humor, I like to laugh and make other people happy. I like to help people whenever I can, if it's within my capacity. Is it selfish? Well sure, it makes me happy to make other's happy. But that doesn't mean it should be a 'degredation' of the action. People often tend not to get things I find 'humerous', I don't know if its me or them. Probably both. Sarcasm is something I have trouble with. At times I seem to be able to use it flawlessly, and at others it completely alludes me. I think sarcasm is a decent example of indirectness, another topic I've thought about quite a bit and have some issues with.

Although I hope you will decide to comment, please keep the above in mind, and possibly more things as I think about it. That's it for now, but maybe it'll give an idea of a few things you'll see coming up. I hope you enjoy reading. Take care, everyone.