Archive for October, 2008

Shiny new Linux software

The new Ubuntu 8.10 is coming out tomorrow.

I should have been playing with it for quite a while now but I don’t have a physical machine that I wanted to dedicate to the task and the alpha releases were known not to work in Virtual Box (my virtual PC software of choice).

The beta release fixed that problem so I loaded it up a month ago… looks nice.

However the Guest Additions in Virtual Box 1.6.6 didn’t work properly with it… so I was limited to a small screen and a mouse that got ‘captured’ by the window everytime I went and clicked in there. Not exactly encouraging me to investigate it further.

Simultaneously, Virtual Box got an upgrade to version 2. Major new feature: the ability to host 64-bit guests – the previous versions could only run 32-bit guests, even if your host machine was 64-bit.

As with any major new release, Virtual Box 2.0.0 appeared to have a couple of issues and it wasn’t clear whether the first bug-fix release, 2.0.2, had cleared them all up. I’m in the middle of two high-workload Java courses at the moment and I use a Virtual Box virtual machine for testing that my homework deploys correctly before I submit it so I couldn’t afford any downtime.. if I upgraded to version 2 it had to work. So of course I restrain those eager fingers and keep working with the setup that keeps working.

Meanwhile I’ve been keeping my virtual copy of Ubuntu 8.10 patched and up to date on a daily basis. It’s been very interesting watching all the patches come along – sometimes as many as 100MB in a single day.

And then they stopped. As of (I think) the end of Monday I don’t think I’ve seen any new patches. Sounds to me like they’re finished! Yes, I know release isn’t until Friday but the Release Candidate was last Friday and you don’t expect to be throwing out changes to that right up to the wire. So I think that what we’ve got now is probably the Real Deal.

Wooo-hooo!

Last night I stopped by the Virtual Box website… 2.0.4 just released with more bug-fixes and support for Ubuntu 8.10. I couldn’t resist. As you can probably tell I’m writing this in 8.10 under Virtual Box right now.

Yes the new GIMP made it in, no the new Open Office didn’t. You don’t need me to run down all the new features – there’s lots of info out there, but some items of interest include

  • The new network manager. Hopefully I’ll find it easier to work with than the old one.
  • The guest session. Creates a new Home directory in /tmp and switches to that without logging you out – great for passing your machine to someone else when you’re still in the middle of doing something.
  • Personal encrypted directory. Sounds interesting but haven’t played with it yet.
  • New Pidgin. I’m a big Pidgin user for chat and IRC so I’m looking forward to the new version. For a time there was talk of replacing it as the default chat client in this release. One cute feature – it integrates into the user-switcher applet.
  • New Samba. I always have issues with Windows file sharing – I know it’s actually easy but it never seems to be that way for me. Hopefully this will make my life easier.
  • And of course new Gnome, X and kernels. Should all help to make this the most user-friendly and stable release yet.

In some ways it’s very pleasant but in some ways it’s slightly underwhelming. And that’s a good thing. There’s no smack-you-in-the-face major change to the desktop, just lots of things that’ll make your life easier and more robust.

I’m really looking forward to upgrading my desktop for real… I just need to find a time when I can afford to possibly be without a computer for half a day – not that I expect that to happen… just that I’d rather err on the side of caution. And my schedule suggests that that won’t be until the beginning of December. I don’t think I can wait that long!

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29th October 2008 at 4:22 pm Leave a comment

When is it Canada’s turn to get some Android love?

So the Google/HTC/T-Mobile G1 is apparently already shipping in the US – a week ahead of its scheduled launch date.

And T-Mobile have just announced a launch date for the UK.

Isn’t it about time someone brought it up here to Canada?

The problem here is that we only have one GSM provider as Rogers owns Fido – and Rogers/Fido is already committed to the iPhone. Would they want to launch a device that is being touted as an ‘iPhone killer’? Probably not.

But maybe there’s a glimmer of hope… Bell have announced that they’re going to be rolling out a 3G GSM network in time for the 2010 Olympics. Wouldn’t the ‘iPhone killer’ be a great way to launch their new network with a bang and grab a heck of a lot of publicity and market share?

Of course they’re not going to have a network for it for another year. But people are already talking about the G2. Maybe the timing will coincide for Bell and they can launch the G2 on their new network next year? And hopefully with more competitive data rates than those that brought Rogers international publicity of the wrong sort.

Pure speculation on my behalf. But next autumn I’ll be digging out this blog post and saying “I told you so!”

15th October 2008 at 3:22 pm Leave a comment

On the subject of LCD monitors…

I mentioned LCD monitors… In my opinion, NCIX is the only place you should consider buying an LCD monitor.

In case you aren’t aware, let me educate you about LCD panels – the “screen” of your LCD monitor. The panel is made up of millions of tiny transistors – a red, a green and a blue one for each pixel on the screen. The manufacturing process is not 100% perfect and, given the millions of pixels on a typical monitor, it’s not uncommon to have one or more of those transistors that don’t work. This results in a “dead” pixel (a pixel that won’t ever turn on) or a “stuck” pixel (a pixel that always displays one colour). Sounds like a faulty panel doesn’t it?

The hidden catch here is that manufacturers and retailers define an acceptable number of dead pixels. When you’re looking at your 19″ monitor with a little black dot on it, you might reasonably think that ZERO is the only acceptable number… but the manufacturers typically set the limit at EIGHT. If you have less than eight dead pixels then, as far at the manufacturer is concerned, your monitor’s fine and you can’t return it. You’re stuck with it.

There is where NCIX offers something special… “Express Coverage“. If you spend the extra $10-$20 for Express Coverage with your LCD then you get a zero dead pixel guarantee – if you find any dead pixels in the first month then you ship it back to them and they ship you a replacement. They pay shipping both ways – they’ll even cross-ship it (ship out the replacement in advance of you returning the faulty one). Given how annoying even a single dead pixel can be, I think you’d be crazy to buy an LCD anywhere else.

The flip-side of this is that it’s very unwise to ever buy an open-box LCD monitor. Why has this been returned? Chances are that it’s got dead pixels.

I’ve bought 15, 17 and 24 inch LCDs from NCIX and been lucky enough to never find a dead pixel. Maybe I’ve been wasting my money on Express Coverage. But on a $600 item I’d rather pay for the peace of mind than have to stare at that black dot for years to come.

10th October 2008 at 2:00 pm Leave a comment

Another choice for computer parts

I’ve never thought of us as exactly over-flowing with choices for buying computer components here.

Sure, there’s a great little back-street parts shop every couple of miles, but their range is usually pretty limited and a lot of that is “we can order it for you and it’ll be here this afternoon”.  But they are very handy and sometimes they’ve got the cheapest prices around.

For a better range and (usually) better prices we have Tiger Direct and NCIX.

I’ve used Tiger Direct several times in the past, generally successfully but I’ve never felt 100% comfortable with them. Not sure I’d use them again as they messed up my last order and the customer support rep didn’t really help the situation.

NCIX has always been a pleasant experience. The prices are usually good, the range and stock are excellent and, being local, I can pop into one of the shops to pick up my order and save time and postage. Maybe the fact that I can cut the delay and cost of shipping out of the equation is a factor in my satisfaction here. The only criticism I have of them is that they put things on and off sale so frequently that several times I’ve bought something only to see it at a lower price the next week – but that’s pretty much expected in this market.

However it looks like we now have a new player in the market. Newegg have been a favourite of many folks in the US for several years – good prices and a good selection. And last week they finally opened a Canadian store.

A quick scan through a couple of random components shows them to be generally comparable with NCIX – about the same or a bit cheaper. The range doesn’t look great though – for instance only 2 different 24″ monitors listed whereas NCIX has 9 actually in stock. Looks like the shipping charges start at about $15 so it’s unlikely to be cost-effective for me personally unless I was ordering a couple of things together but for folks who already have to pay shipping from NCIX it’s likely to be an alternative worth checking. And NCIX will price-match a lot of stuff so maybe I can get the best of both worlds next time I need to buy something.

5th October 2008 at 9:20 am Leave a comment

Canadian Do Not Call List

The Canadian National Do Not Call List is finally live – several years behind the rest of the civilized world.

Be sure to register all your personal phones, faxes etc here

Not that I think it’s going to make a heck of a difference – there are too many exemptions.

Political parties are exempt. Obviously a hot-topic at the moment, we had three calling “for our support” last weekend. You couldn’t really imagine them limiting their own right to cold-call you could you?

Charities are exempt. No objection to that.

Organizations with an existing business relationship are exempt. Fair enough – although they’re still able to call you for eighteen months after your last dealings with them. Seems excessive but it’s the same length as used by the US list.

Newspapers selling subscriptions are exempt. This one I don’t understand – how is this different from any other company selling a product? It’s not an exemption in the US list. Are Canadian newspapers much better lobbyists than their US counterparts?

Surveys and polls are exempt too. The CRTC says that these are exempt “because the caller is not asking you to purchase, lease or rent products or services”. So what about “good evening sir, I’m conducting a survey. If we could replace your windows for $299 each, how many would you want to replace? Five, six, seven?”. Yes, believe it or not, I had exactly that call in the UK. The US list specifically says “Callers purporting to take a survey, but also offering to sell goods or services, must comply with the National Do Not Call Registry” but that clause isn’t in the Canadian FAQ (I haven’t checked the actual act). I can see some dodgy companies wrapping their sales spiel in words like this to try and make you think it’s legitimate.

The other big uncertain area is calls from other countries. At the end of the day, there’s little point in a company calling you if that company exists only in another country. But a Canadian company might be prepared to hire a foreign call centre if it got them around the rules. The US legislation says “If a company within the U.S. solicits sales through an overseas professional telemarketer, that U.S. company may be liable for any violations by the telemarketer”. Can anybody find a similar clause on the Canadian website? I can’t. Given that it’s cheaper for me to call the UK than the other side of BC, this might be a problem.

1st October 2008 at 4:00 pm Leave a comment


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