Monday, December 31, 2007

Tech things that happened in 2007

Well everybody else is making their lists so here is another one... In 2007 ...

  • My Psion Netbook refused to die

Netbook still going strong. The HTC Shift was pre-ordered. A Vista capable portable computer with a second ARM processor running Windows Mobile 6. Guess what's delayed, despite early samples production dating from Feb 2007. What are you doing HTC, get a grip! Until the Netbook keeps going. With its superb keyboard, colour screen, 7 hours of instant on battery powered existance and a comprehensive Applications, and Windows syncing, well what's not to like.

  • PDA smartphone users still looking for a phone that works.

Uncle Steve [Jobs] was quite right in his iPhone announcement presentation. Windows Mobile users who have a PDA smartphone combo don't have it easy. Small screen, at best tempermental and slow cellphone, sluggish performance and serious usablility issues lead to the question. Why does it have to be this way? Well for 2007, it still does.

  • Apple iPhone brilliant but walled

My best friend at work inadvertently bought a hacked iPhone. After months of coaching about the virtues of struggling along with a Windows Mobile 6 platform all it took was one short hands on iPhone session and he was converted. I share his sentiments too, the user interface is brilliant, the large average resolution screen renders brilliantly, and most importantly the applications work quickly and flawlessly. But the bad news is that any PDA functionality is carefully locked down. You can't legitimately write to the UNIX filesystem or install an any application. Are they kidding! I can't support such tyranny so for now the iPhone is off limits.

  • Podcasts keep my sanity

Since restarting my working career [it seemed like a good idea at the time] I've had the opportunity to work in a really noisy environment. It's probably slightly more annoying than my time at Hams Hall Power Station Operators room, so noisy that stepping out to an all night rave would have been quieter. In the current environment not only is Internet streaming banned, but I sit opposite two defeningly loud Hindi Speakers. Behind me is a foghorn German man, and over the partition is a loud French man who swears about his Microsoft products every 5 minutes.

So only my trusty iPod Nano complete with a full days Podcasts keeps me sane and enable me to do at least some work. Speak thanks to Coverville, Podrunner, Groove Electric, Buzz Out Loud, Beyond Belief, The Archers, Friday Night Comedy, Some Assembly Required.

  • Shimano gets very Lazy

Exactly how long must I wait for a Dura Ace groupset update! I've waited 2 years already and you only gave me a carbon fibre crankset or a minor Ultegra SL update.

  • Porsche gets lazy, Audi got busy

Trust me Ferdinand, your company really could and should do better. 3 years of waiting and still you dont have a decent Double Clutch gearbox that I can get on a Golf GTI. You gave us a 911 convertible but forgot to add the SL (and now even Renault ) steel folding roofs. Meanwhile, Audi announced the R8, a drive every day car whose performance, gearbox, looks and style cannot be understated. Even the interior will give any 911 owner cause to cry. R8, I want one, I think I might even need one.

  • Intel got quadruplingly fast

AMD's fall from grace has been suprising swift. Intel continues to come out with an avalanche of faster than AMD processors, and now the latest Barcelona and other AMD quad cores are either delayed or faulty, Intels dominance is almost set in stone. Personally from Pentium onward I always marvelled at the CISC instruction set that performed liked a RISC. With the AMD inspired Hardware Virtualisation now embedded into Intel things look very bright for 2008.

  • Vista arrived and was troublesome

While some users have downgraded back to XP I have stuck it out with Vista. Whilst Vista does have notable benefits in terms of UI, facilities, Security and Networking there is no doubt that Vista users have not had a smooth ride. The ultimate responsibibility is of course Microsoft's even if they can point a legitimate finger at lazy vendors whose bugggy drivers (or lack of) don't quite work with Vista often bringing it to its knees. At the end of the day users with a difficult product just blame Microsoft, and since MS doesn't work in the Apple closed envrionment or the Linux "us against the world" OpenSource model, they really have to carry the shame. I hope things improve in 2008, lets just say with care you can build a bullit proof Vista, but you'll need to be careful.

  • Linux did not take over the computer world

Remind me. This Linux is free, better then everything else, and my commercial company will sell it for free and just charge for support. But wait, if it's so user friendly and bug free, surely users won't need that much support?

As a Linux user of some 15 years I still love the Linux OS but it's not top of my list. As a way to practically look at programming techniques and kernel code .. fantastic. For Webserving and firewalls .. efficient. But as a solid, upgradeable (not reinstallable) platform with a small finite set of variants (distributions) ... failure big time.

  • More technology moved from the providence of the few to the commodity of the many.

Even chavs can now own the following (although they clearly wouldn't know what they are using right!) ... Dual Core Processors, 3GB RAM, 1TB Hard drives, MP3 players, Portable GPS, Digital Hi-FI, Digital TV

Friday, December 28, 2007

Santa Updates my Key

And so I am happy to report that Aunty Santa has at last arrived and made some important updates to my keyring. The 3 new deliveries are all sitting on top of my old trusty iPod Nano just so you can really see how small they really are.

On the left is the PQI 2GB memory USB key. Just ideal for handing to a friend as they copy off those 2GB of .avi files you created on your home video camera.

In the middle is a Sandisk microSD to USB converter complete with an 8GB SDHC memory card. Ideal for exchanging data with my Eten X800 PDA

And finally mama presented me with a mouse key ring light, which if carried by those naive american school kids might have stopped many of those murderous moments I've seen at the movies.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The PC Builders moment of Truth

It would be like a Pro cyclist not knowing how to change a tyre, or an Electrical Engineer not being able to mend a toaster, or a Chef not knowing how to dice a carrot.

For me, who has been building micro Computers since before 1980, (and in the early days with a soldering Iron), well not being able to build a PC would truely be a moment of shame.

And so in fact, every time one builds a PC there is always a slight moment of fear and trepidation. PC builders know it well. It's when the motherboard is in the case, the CPU(s) and heatsink are installed, some memory is in place and the graphics card is plugged in.

At that point you power up and look for the BIOS screen, when you see that you know that you've not done something stupid.

In my case this PC build has been in progress for over 12 months! I had wanted to upgrade the current master Server PC which has been trundling along on AMD Athlon 3500 power for over 2 years. Recently it got a bump up to dual core Athlon 4800 since the socket 939 on the motherboard allows it. But really it was time for a change.

Having bought the beautifully made, quiet and Functional Lian-Li aluminium case in early 2007, and then the Cooler Master M1000 power supply all that was needed was a suitable motherboard. After much analysis it seemed that the benefits of DDR3 memory were not clear and that AMD's quad core client and server platform CPUs were between not available or not working. So I eventually chose the SuperMicro X7DWA-N This is a dual Xeon (upto 8 processor cores), 8 Registered DDR2 DIMM motherboard including 2xPCI-E16 slots. This should allow for a Dual Link graphics card that can drive a suitable 30" 2560x1600 pixel screen.

So back to the build .. the Xeon processor has a metal plate undernetath the mothboard that I naturally assumed the heatsink would screw into. After manhandling the motherboard into an already crowded case I found the active heatsinks (supplied with the CPUs for this quad code Xeon processor) would not attach to the motherboard. A motherboard removal later it was clear the screws on the heatsink would never hold to the motherboard plate since the plate has no thread and had holes larger that the heatsink screws! Being in Switzerland there was zero chance of finding something like a Radio Shack or Maplins from where I could get some nuts. Oh Woe! Eventually I cannabilised nuts from my Cromemco DPS-1 power supply and the CPU was attached.

About an hour later .. all was installed and it was time for the big switch on ... Power on ... CPU fans spin (good) but no display ... no beep.

What a disaster!

This normally means that the CPU is not active for if it is you would hear a Diagnostic Beep or two.

So here is the solution, since all now well (test copy of Vista Ultimate is installed and running at 2560x1600 display pixels native)

The culprit was the old graphics card, which was a very early Dual Link card. When initially connected to the 2560x1600 display it is blank, and (dont ask me how) also seems to prevent the beeps from sounding.

When no cards were installed the Diagnostic Beeps indicated missing/faulty display card so at that point I knew the Xeons were active. By re-plugging this graphics card and connecting it to a standard DVI screen the BIOS screen showed up and this allowed me to do a basic OS install.

Then with both 1920x1200 and 2560x1600 screen connected to this dual DVI socketed card I managed to switch to the Dual DVI interface only as primary display.

So now, until I get a better Dual link card, on boot there is no BIOS screen and no display until Windows Vista gets to the login screen. Somewhat un-nerving but it will do as a test.

Christmas Present list 2007

12 christmas presents to match the 12 apostles or 12 months of the year that I am looking forward to

Any of the wanted manuals listed here in PDF or paper format

Audi R8 Options
If you buy all the options I need (about 23K GBP when I checked in Dec 2007) then I will buy the car. Apparently there is no waiting list in Switzerland.

Any 32bit Cromix applications to run on my Motorola 68020 powered Cromix 168XXU and Cromix 172XXU Operating Systems

The Datex or other IDE to MFM Drive Converter

Gym Membership
To our Malley Gym for 2008

Computer Chips
2x Xeon DP line is the quad-core X5460 to power my new computer

Somebody to call and fix my numerous PC problems

A quality Cycle toolset to replace the one that I had stolen

Some snowboard tuition

A new PDA to finally replace my beautifully capable Psion Netbook. I vote for the HTC Shift but only when it can make voice calls, run full WM6 and use its internal GPS

Some legitimate way to receive the BBC iPlayer and the C4 player


Oh yes, if there was a one true god perhaps she could please arrange "Peace on Earth, good will toward men."

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas sickness (again!)

I don't believe it the second Christmas in a row and Marcus is not too well.

Last year we spent the Christmas period in India and we were unlucky enough to contract food poisoning at the Sheraton Agra. I was so sick that I did not manage to see the sun arise over the Taj Mahal and Agata who succumed just a little later was not in much better shape.

So what are the chances ... this year a combination of Marks and Spencer Christmas pudding and Polish cream worked its wicked effect. Christmas day 17.00 Christmas Pudding eaten. About 19.00 stomach swelling, about 21.00 violent sickness begins.

After a few more hours of sickness and general body fluid removal I can honestly say that for the second year in a row I have lost a significant amount of weight during Christmas Day. There, not many people can say that.

Just the sight of a Christmas Pudding or a chocolate bar makes me feel dizzy.

I think the lowpoint was getting up being sick and then collapsing. Having recovered consciousness and getting cleaned up, well it was all up from there. Tomorrow, i.e. Thursday December 27th I want to be well again, I didn't come all this way to Warsaw to be sick for goodness sake!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

I decorated the tree

It must be a sign of how content a Christmas we are having by the fact that first I actually have the time to talk about things and that I decorated the tree. In fact 2 trees!

A good part of Christmas Eve was spent searching through seeminlgly forest of what I perceived to be identical Polish christmas trees looking for the perfect tree. Not to tall and not too wide, and with all the right proporations. In retrospect my decision to go out into the sub zero (but snowless) Warsaw landscape sans gloves and hat was pretty stupid, however I had naively assumed we would be shopping inside the latest generation of air conditioned and climate controlled Malls. After several hours of searching the ideal tree was revelead and 30 Zl (about 6 GBP) later it was on the way to mums home.

Here is the result:

Today being Christmas we drove off to see Tadeus's grave and despite the cold we all felt the better for it.

After listening to the Queen's speech it was time to settle down with the Marks and Spencer Christmas pudding and catch up watching some of those feature films from 2007 that we've been too busy until now to follow.
Oh yes we decorated a second mini Marks and Spencer frotsted tinsle Christmas tree in the hallway, so 2 trees, that's a record for us.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Duty Not Free

Previously I explained our small but steady trade in Cross Border Shipping. Because of this our cabin and hold bags are precisely and obsessively packed to perfection.

On our last flight my hold bag was conservativly loaded at 19.9Kg ready for the baggage allowance of 20.0Kg. And the Easyjet carry on, since EasyJet UK has no weight restriction for hand baggage weighed in at about 25Kg.

So to put it simply:

We are not a budget, carry it free for you Air freight service. If you want some Belgian chocoate shells or some Lindt Extra fin noir then please go to your local supermarket. Likewise for that CD perfume.

Large glass bottles of Whisky in their packaging are guess what .. heavy and cumbersome.

It's possibly some sort of cruel game colleages are playing on us. In order to save about 5CHF (2 GB pounds) they ask you to goto the Duty free (this means us arriving early at the airport), battle thru the queues, carry those bulky and often heavy items towards the gate via those "please strip naked, stand around, smelly feet" X-ray scanners. Then squabble with fellow passengesr looking for locker space, forgetting not deplane with said goods. And smile with your contraband in a "please dont stop me, I'm not a chav but here is all my duty free" as one struggles thru the Nothing to Declare isle at your destination.

When you finally hand over the goods be prepared for the quiet "oh thanks", or "was it really that expensive" retort. This is better than the "oh I wanted the other size" or the real kicker "I wanted the other flavour, could you take it back".

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Cross Border Shipping (All mine)

To me, Cross Border Shipping relates to the purchase of goods in one country and moving them to another.

Many years ago there was a time when I lived New York and Europe. In London it was just impossible to find Kneipp shower gels. So of course my regular commute was often filled these and other Kneipp products.
And so as Christmas in Warsaw beckons I postulated what I might need to bring from London to Switzerland in order to get it to Warsaw for christmas. And the answer today is not a lot! Since 2000 the expansion in retail in Poland has meant that most things are now available and at retail and sensible prices. Even Marks and Spencer Food has opened up. So that yearly Christmas Pudding, the bargain Champagne and Biscuit selection has already been bought, and it's waiting for us in Warsaw already.
In comparison the retail expansion in Switzeralnd, what retail expansion? I have noticed in Lausanne we now have 2 Starbucks coffee houses, up from the big zero, believe me this is a big deal. But aside from that there is not much to report.
So in the future we'll be importing clothes, Lady Grey tea, Vitamins, Car parts, magazines, Electronics and Computer goods, Basically nearly everything except Gruyere cheese but only to Switzerland. After hundreds of years being ahead, Switzerland has been overtaken by Poland in just 7 years. I wonder how far they will be ahead in the next 7?