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Living with a netbook

By on Nov 3, 2012 in Tech Takes | 13 comments

I posted a version of this blog post earlier as a copy of an article I wrote for The Stag. While the tone and the content of the article was appropriate for a general audience aimed at in a university newspaper, I felt that it didn’t quite gel with the kind of posts that I want to publish on this blog. This is why I took the blog post offline soon after. I have edited now for what I feel is a better fit. In this post, I talk through how I reasoned myself into getting a netbook, fell in love with the machine, and then gave up on the whole concept of netbooks entirely because of how frustrating my experience was. I bought an expensive Dell Studio laptop when I started with university because I wanted a computer that would last me through my time here. I was quite happy with it too, as it performed well even when doing graphics-heavy tasks such as video and effects editing that I needed to do because of my involvement in campus student television. A year into using the laptop – a week after the warranty expired, in fact – the motherboard went kaput. There wasn’t much I could do about it, except that it seemed it had happened due to a power surge. I couldn’t get it investigated further because I hadn’t bought extended warranty cover from Dell. This was back in 2010, while I was in Singapore. I was quite disillusioned with Dell, and I didn’t want to buy anything from them again. One of my roommates used an Advent netbook (a PC World / Currys Digital own-brand) and seemed quite happy with it. I also borrowed an Asus Eee PC in the meantime from a friend – and while it sufficed as a replacement computer, I hated the keyboard on that thing. Way too cramped. Still, I was intrigued by how lightweight the Advent and the Asus were, and that my roommate could use his for a good six hours without charging. I decided to take a look at what was on offer at Funan IT Mall. I played around with as many netbook models in display as I could, to get a good feel for their keyboard. That was my primary concern with getting a netbook. (Oh, and by the way, I also discovered that prices are so standardised across shops in Funan that there is absolutely no point shopping around for prices – unless you want to compare what freebies you get along with your purchase.) What stood out for me was a Lenovo S10-3c – the netbook that I eventually bought. With a dual-core Intel Atom N455 processor with support for 64-bit operating systems, 1 GB of RAM, 160 GB of hard disk space it seemed value-for-money. What I liked in particular was how easy I found to touch type on the shop-floor models: it had a keyboard with isolated “chiclet-style” keys which felt less cramped than the one on Asus Eee PC. I sold my old Dell Studio for S$200 and walked away with my new Lenovo netbook. Throughout my time in Singapore, I loved it. I customised it with a vinyl skin and called it “Froggy”. It was lightweight (including the charger, a 45W model, which can add weight when carrying your computer around for extended periods!) and it allowed me to pack light when travelling. The battery life was excellent: I could confidently take it to a full day of lectures and even with wi-fi turned on expect it to last me 7-8 hours. I mostly used it for browsing and coding, with the occasional bit of word processing here and there. Ubuntu was a beast on it for light usage, and I could even switch to Windows 7 Professional when I needed to. My only beef with it was that without a dedicated graphics card, I had to give up playing games on it. And that sometimes it took ages for software to compile / build on it. Still, I was quite happy with it overall because I did a lot of travelling during that time and it was nice to have a full-fledged “laptop-like” user experience without making too many compromises. In hindsight, I found my netbook such a useful companion because I did not have a proper smartphone at the time (back when I had a Nokia 5630 XpressMusic) to fill in my casual browsing needs on the move. Once I did get an Android smartphone though, I found myself using my mobile phone more for what I was using my netbook for. I then went on placement year where I had a ‘proper’ work laptop issued to me – and then I really felt the pinch in processing power. It was quite all right, at first. I don’t know whether software applications became heavier on system resources through 2011, but what I found was that even without eating up all available RAM, applications took a long time to load. Skype (on Windows) took a good ten minutes to start up, to the extent that I got in the habit of asking friends to “wait for ten minutes” whenever they wanted to chat with me. Firefox hung frequently even with less than a dozen tabs open – especially when loading websites with Flash video or sites such as The...

That one time I got badgered into writing a Klouticle

By on May 25, 2012 in Tech Takes | 0 comments

Klout is one of those things you either love or love-to-hate. For those who are late to the party, Klout is way to measure how big your penis is, only online. As it turns out, ‘the public’, apparently, is crazy to know what my thoughts on Klout are and I have been badgering with requests to write a post about it. So due to popular demand, I decided to do a blog post on Klout. A high Klout score works wonders in attracting dem bitches. This post will teach you how to make your friends burn with jealousy at your massive Klout score. Actually, it will do none of those things and will very soon turn into a pretentious discussion, but let’s keep up appearances. For now. Once you login using your Twitter or Facebook account on the Klout website, it stalks your profile 24/7, silently judging every word that you say, every conversation you have, every social faux pas that you commit (like that one time when I posted a link to goatse on your mom’s Facebook wall and she liked it – that was hilarious). Klout then uses magic and ground puppy dog tails to calculate how big your online penis is, down to two decimal places. Ever watchful and judgemental that Klout is, it can also tell you what topics you are ‘influential’ in. For me this happens to be (in order): comedy (stolen jokes ftw!) college Sim (huh?) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (last played / talked about two years ago) Jordan (country, not MILF) music movies celebrities Electronic Arts Lancaster (my only relation to Lancaster is Aditya; I’ve neither been to the place nor really met the guy) Groningen (never visited; only relation is I know of is Amy, who went on an exchange programme there) servers books Dropbox Guildford (fair enough) Skype (follow me on Twitter to find out HOW TO MAKE INTERNATIONAL CALLS FOR FREE* *using Skype) Morocco food video North Korea (I less-than-three Klout for this last entry!!!) (Note that I have cleverly introduced links to tag pages on my own blog to keep you trapped on this site longer. Fall for that trick, please.) Finally (not really, because Klout has more cavities that you can fall into), Klout gives you a ‘personality’ type based on your social network content and interactions. The scientific accuracy of this is as good and worthwhile as a Myers-Briggs personality type – which is to say, not scientific at all. You can use your clout on Klout (henceforth shortened to ‘Klout’ for simplicity) to access perks from companies – freebies, early access to websites, party invites, et al. See, when you’re following a celebrity on Twitter or Facebook, you don’t want to hear them peddling affiliate links to buy goji berry drinks on Amazon. There is a certain expectation on part of fans that the interactions with a celebrity on these social media sites would be ‘more authentic’ – not having to listen to their favourite idols talk about products for commercial reasons. This is partly why Twitter hasn’t been able to make any significant amount of money. Yet there are companies too scared to lose the plot in the New World Order and not advertise on social networks and an equal number of ‘social media advertising agencies’ itching to relieve aforementioned companies of their heavy wallets. How do you find influential but non-celebrity users whose egos can be stroked to create an environment where online advertising spends increase? Therein lies the whole reason why it exists: Klout is a ___________. If you guessed the blank as ‘circlejerk’ then congratulations, that’s the right answer. While I’m sure the statisticians who work at Klout are smart and genuinely nice people, the way Klout is marketed as ‘the standard of influence online’ is because it allows marketing agencies to claim they are engaging with ‘highly influential users’ while it keeps the cheque-signers at companies happy, too, that they are reaching out to ‘highly influential users’. Take for instance another company tackling the same problem – PeerIndex. Who the fuck talks or knows about PeerIndex? Nobody, exactly. PeerIndex is the conscientious nerd who sticks to the maths of the matter and doesn’t do Klout’s fudging of accounts to make you better than you really are. My PeerIndex score is 30 / 100 and it tells me I’m not influential on any topics – which I think is an assessment far closer to truth that Klout’s. Who wants to hear that? Nobody, exactly. (The days when, if ever, I log in to my PeerIndex account are the days I cry myself to sleep.) Nobody – not the marketing companies, not the companies with the money, and more importantly not the users – wants to hear that they are shit and actually influence no one. And thus Klout exists – because it has gotten ego-stroking down to a science, despite how noble its intentions are. People want to hear what unique and influential snowflakes they are, which come to think of it, isn’t that far from what a Myers-Briggs test is. (Myers-Briggs, at best, is a test that tells you who you think you are rather than who you actually are.) It is a mirror in which people see the image of themselves they want to see. So while Klout’s estimations may be wildly inaccurate (e.g., I don’t think...

Facebook Messenger for Windows and bullshit ‘tech news’

By on Jan 6, 2012 in Tech Takes | 0 comments

Facebook went ahead and launched a new ‘messenger application’ for Windows that can be download here. Quite expectedly, the tech news brigade went gaga over it. Not a single story I have read on this topic so far has pointed out that this so-called ‘messenger app’ is a skinned version of Chromium browser that does nothing more than load the same chat window you would find on Facebook’s desktop site. This should be obvious from the installer (same as Chromium) and processes the application spawns (similar …Updater.exe etc processes). There’s crap, crap, and more crap like: The application was developed entirely by Facebook and does not constitute a new partnership with Microsoft, which is a big investor in Facebook. It’s not clear if Facebook will offer support for anything before Windows 7, or if it will simply move on towards Windows 8. Clients for Mac and Linux will likely only be released if the Windows 7 version proves popular. If Google Chrome can be installed on Windows XP, I’m willing to bet this messenger app can be too. Man does sloppy ‘reporting’ sicken me. New York Times can be annoying in their formal and pretentious tone of referring to people as ‘Mr Zuckerberg’ and the like, but at least they bother to research up their articles before publishing rather than any bullshit that comes into the writer’s head. *** Oh I do love the Facebook Messenger mobile app, by the way. Such an incredibly easy way to send real-time text messages without even having a contact’s phone number. The beauty is doesn’t have the urgency of SMS / WhatsApp and allows you to reply at your own pace – immediately, if online or sent as push message to mobile; at leisure, if offline or it’s a long message. That’s so odd, isn’t it? Functionally, they are apps which are accomplishing the same thing – delivering messages in real-time – yet they have their own ‘pace’. With a smartphone, you could technically have a back-and-forth conversation using email too (if you use Gmail, it will keep the conversation threaded) but nobody in their right mind would ever use email for a chat conversation. Think about when you chat on Gmail – it actually is saved as an email conversation. There’s an implied sense of urgency when you talk to someone using an instant messenger. In this particular case, I think this happens because neither email nor Facebook Messenger give any indication of whether a message was successfully delivered to a recipient and whether it was read. WhatsApp (similarly, BlackBerry Messenger) show delivery reports as well as time of last login, thus creating implications of messages being ‘ignored’ if they are not replied to within a timeframe considered ‘reasonable’. I wonder whether any human-computer interaction or psychological research has been done into such phenomenon, of usage patterns for means of communication depending on how they are...

This is not the Yahoo! I used to like

By on Dec 9, 2011 in Tech Takes | 19 comments

For the longest time, I have been a fan of Yahoo! as a company, a brand, and a web service provider. As a brand Yahoo! had a fun vibe that made rooting for it fun. I genuinely thought Yahoo! Mail Beta (now referred to as ‘The All-New Yahoo! Mail’, because marketing types aren’t very creative) was a good design and had members from their team dropping by to read my blog, insisted that online conference for my school’s computing club took place nowhere else other than Yahoo! Messenger (club members who usually used Google Talk – and often tried to convince me to use that instead – had to dust off their old Yahoo! IDs to sign in; I was totally a dicktator about this), I had members from Yahoo!’s engineering team emailing me thanking for the feedback I gave on their products. I evangelised them to the extent that I was a small part in an online marketing campaign they had too – I remember I even had to fax back release forms to Sunnyvale, CA for this. Long story short, I like Yahoo! a lot. Or used to. For fuck’s sake, I used Yahoo! Search as my default search engine. The company has been an underdog, now that you think of it, ever since Google launched Gmail back in 2004 – and who doesn’t like an underdog! I always considered what its problem was more of a marketing and image problem – a problem of making things ‘cool’ with geeks again – and perhaps working a bit more on technology. When I visited Yodel Anecdotal – the Yahoo! Corporate Blog – 2-3 years ago announcements used to be about something new or the other that Yahoo! was doing. It was a company that was trying. The latest announcement on Yodel Anecdotal today is about how they plastered a FedEx ad on one of their sites. Video interviews with Yahoo! employees nobody gives a fuck about (except for, bless her, the employee’s extended family). Weekly search trends – which is nothing other than filler fluff for times when they have nothing to talk about. Plastering Puss In The Boots movie ads on Yahoo! Movies. Ben fucking Stiller’s face filling your Yahoo! home page. Another one about a Barnes & Nobles Nook reader ad on Yahoo! Shine. You know what that Barnes & Noble ad announcement reads? (I’m not making any of the following excerpt up.) The “Close X” button is displayed prominently at the top right, which brings the user back to the normal browser view. The thin Nook banner remains along the top to compliment the 300 x 250 Nook window on the right. The wallpaper then fills in with Nooks displaying different book covers. The “Close X” button is displayed prominently at the top right, which brings the user back to the normal browser view. Are you fucking kidding me??? Is this the most exciting thing Yahoo! can muster up – across all the projects its employees were working on that week – to announce on its corporate blog?! If yes, then I’m very worried that Yahoo! has completely lost it. Yodel Anecdotal once was a hub of showcasing what the company was innovating on, and now it is just a loud sales brochure for display advertising on sites it owns. Either that, or a sales a brochure for a multi-billion dollar buyout from investment companies who couldn’t care less whether Yahoo! is a media company or a technology company as long as financial jugglery can show profits. I can’t help but think that all the video profiles of all and sundry employees is merely a memo handed down by HR to keep morale up among its troops so that the decent ones don’t jump ship while Yahoo! finds itself a buyer. It’s easy to blame recently-fired CEO Carol Bartz for the mess as she couldn’t help with providing a clear technical direction. (I do think she did a half-decent job of beefing up Yahoo!’s original content news teams globally, from personal experience I’ve heard from people working in Yahoo! News teams.) Yahoo!’s attitude run deeper, tracing its roots back to the co-founders themselves who told Google to fuck off as all Yahoo! cared about was display advertising (to paraphrase wildly). Yahoo! bought Flickr and launched many new services either through acquisitions or in-house services. Yahoo! does seem to have a reputation of a company where acquired startups go to die – think blo.gs, MyBlogLog, Jumpcut, Zimbra… Almost all in-house experiments are mothballed now, acquired services sold or shut down, and there are murmurs that casual users have started backing away from Flickr. I haven’t heard of anything new Flickr has done in a long while – at least nothing good enough to be more important than a description of how rollover ads get closed with contact details for Yahoo!’s advertising team (who are WAITING FOR YOU RIGHT NOW IN CASE YOU WANT TO PLACE AN ORDER!!! HURRY OFFER VALID ONLY TILL STOCKS LAST!!!) I’m being harsh. Off-late, Yodel Anecdotal has once again started including product updates albeit after a year of more or fluff, fluff, and more fluff. Yet even with the course correction things aren’t the same. Most interesting news is about content deals or existing products being launched in new markets. To this day, I use Yahoo! Mail. Yahoo! Mail has had an...

Love-hate-love my (Nokia) ‘smartphone’

By on Aug 1, 2011 in Tech Takes | 61 comments

As you may have figured out from my previous blog post, I am in the money now thanks to the summer internship gig I did in Singapore. Now that I’m in Taipei city – home to HTC among other technology firms – with a healthy bank balance I feel sorely tempted to buy a new phone. Should I buy one? I currently own a Nokia 5630 XpressMusic. It’s a candy-bar Symbian Series 60 3rd Edition phone that’s little known outside of Europe and in a long line of Nokia phones that the company itself seems to have forgotten. When I was looking into buying a new phone, I was considering getting either this or Nokia 5530 / 5230 (Comprende Nair owns one). Back then though, Symbian Series 60 5th Edition wasn’t mature enough, and the 5630 comes with WiFi support; the 5230 didn’t have that but it had GPS support instead that the 5630 didn’t. Typical Nokia to cripple the phone in one way or another. Over the year that I have been using this phone, I have come to realise that WiFi is next to worthless because the browser crashes whenever trying to open the menu while browsing – which is as big a bug as it gets (although a ‘recent’ update has helped with this). Technically it has a Webkit-based browser like Mobile Safari or the Android browser too but its standards support is much worse and page rendering slower. I only ever use the built-in browser when I’m downloading apps. Here’s where Nokia (until recently) annoyed by forcing you to sign in before allowing you download any map fro the Ovi Store. I’m forced to use 3G instead of the WiFi, as the latter clearly doesn’t work for me. The downside is that the WiFi radio on most devices uses much less power (in the order of ~100mW) compared to the 3G radio that much more power-hungry (in the order of ~1.5W). Leaving WiFi scanning on all day will deplete battery perceptibly but for data transfer WiFi is far more energy-efficient than 3G. This disparity in power consumption is partly due to the fact that with 3G your cellphone often has to make contact with a base tower further away than required for WiFi. The Nokia 5630 has an 860mAh battery – woefully less for 3G browsing usage, and lasts less than five hours moderate to heavy usage. When I’m travelling and don’t have easy access to a charging station, my phone turns into a useless brick I have to carry around. (Recently, I switched off my phone’s 3G antenna and battery life has shot up dramatically as a consequence.) So I do most of my browsing via Opera Mini. I’m addicted to browsing on the move. I check my emails and social networking accounts all the time. Pressing speed dial shortcuts as soon as I open the browser and launch five different tabs has become second nature. I like to lie down in bed before going to sleep or on waking up in the morning going through my reading list (synced via Read It Later) or the news. I find going through long form articles easier to do a small screen, for some reason. Scrolling bit-by-bit and reading for hours has a therapeutic effect on me. I feel much refreshed when I do so. (More than one roommate has commented how my phone appears to be physically glued to my hand.) No matter how good the Opera Mini experience is, it’s often just not good enough – especially when a site doesn’t have a mobile version or uses anything beyond trivial JavaScript. Formatting, apart from bold face, is stripped out too. I often resent that when I need Opera Mini to be able to handle JavaScript the most, it fails me. The poor browsing experience ends up frustrating me a lot. I’m a heavy texter too – I prefer texting to calling – and with Twitter / Facebook / email thrown into the mix I type a lot on my phones. My previous cellphone was a touchscreen phone that required a stylus to enter text and so I’m grateful to find a physical keypad on this phone. I’m good enough with T9 to be able to type without looking at the keypad. I’d prefer a QWERTY keyboard though, only to save myself the hassle of choosing alternatives for particular key sequence. Media playback on the phone isn’t bad at all. The music player is good as they come, and the dedicated music buttons help. At one time this was actually useful for me as I used to maintain a music collection but now I almost exclusively use Spotify for listening to music. I pay for the Spotify Unlimited account that costs £5 per month, though it doesn’t allow me to stream / store offline to mobile (that costs an additional £5 per month). I wouldn’t mind paying the extra subscription fee but if I did start using my phone as a music player in addition to my browsing device, it’s battery is going to last me even less on a single charge. People often say that Nokia makes good camera phones – especially the ones that it fits with Carl Zeiss lenses. Nokia, at least one point of time, certainly sold the highest number of digital cameras once you start considering smartphones as digital cameras...