Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nokia E-71 - Still the best

[Superceded by Super OLED.]

Bought my second Nokia E-71 today, for US$140 on a US$30 plan contracted for two years. I could have traded-in my one-year old one for US$140 but I didn't as the new phone is for my daughter.

This phone is still the best considering all factors. The GPS receiver alone is worth the price.

What I like about the phone (all equally important to me except infrared):
a. Tethering without issues
b. Slimmer than an iPhone
c. Exchange client
d. Full QWERTY keypad, albeit a bit small
e. Reasonably good camera for all the emergency situations
f. Two cameras
g. Video recording
h. HSDPA, Wifi, Bluetooth with A2DP
i. Expandable storage through MicroSD
j. GPS
k. VOIP according to standards
l. FM radio
m. Browser that can see most web sites
n. Plays MP3 and WMA
o. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, PDF viewers
p. Live Messenger client
q. It's hardy. Have dropped it from height quite a few times and none the worse.
r. It can stand upright on its bottom
s. Infrared - though I can't find a notebook that has one these days

I can find only one serious shortcoming: screen size of 320x240. I would like to see that increased without increasing the current thickness or losing the keyboard.

Irritation? Still a 2.5mm headphone jack. It has to wait for a technology breakthrough in the E-72 to have that increased by 1mm!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

So, Apple has a new mouse

I am wondering why people still need a mouse, especially on a notebook. A quite common scenario I see is someone brings a laptop into the meeting, and then spends the next five minutes plugging in the charger and the mouse and then booting up. With all those cables, the laptop is no more a mobile computer!!

I have not used a mouse for the last thirteen years, that is, since I got my first notebook, a Compaq Armada 4100. It has a touch-pad. Between 2000 and 2004 I was using the Compaq M700 and that has the stick. The stick was tough on the finger due to the force required.

Even the stick is better than the mouse. For the very simple reason that it takes less than one-tenth the time for your hand to leave the keyboard to reach for it. So I can do things ten times faster than a mouse user.

The touch-pad is still the best pointing device as it requires the least effort for a lazy person like me. A well-tuned touch-pad would allow me to move the cursor across a 1600-pixel wide screen by moving across just half the pad.

I compare myself to colleagues sitting around me who still insist on using the mouse. I get screen work done at least ten times faster than all of them on average. It is frustrating every time I go to their PC to see something they are showing me. It's a snail's pace compared to what I normally experience on my PC. And when they come and see something demoed on my PC, it's a smooth flow of activities, so fast that they sometimes get lost.

Another reason for my speed is that I use the pointing device for only a small fraction of the time. I have no hard data, but it's something like for 80% of the occasions other people are using their mouse I am simply using the keyboard. Basically I don't use the touch-pad if some key will do. Hence the speed difference is easily a few hundred times, two to three orders of magnitude apart. For example, I take five centi-seconds to hit a key, you take half a second to move your hand from keyboard to the mouse, two seconds to move it to a menu item, and another second to come back to the keyboard.

All you need is to spend a diligent five minutes learning to use the touch-pad after tweaking the drivers. And you will never touch a mouse again.

What I am looking forward to is a touch-pad that is located between the H and J keys on the keyboard. This will reduce the travel time even further whenever I have to use the touch-pad.

The disadvantage of the touch-pad? Every time I have to use someone else's PC, I suffer from a major handicap as performance is down-shifted by a few notches.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Microsoft Security Essentials - Network and Connectivity Issues

The only time I have used an anti-virus software for myself was in 1987 (yes, more than 20 years ago) when I checked out a version from an Israeli company. I disassembled it, examined the machine instructions, and promptly uninstalled it as I could not relish the idea that every int 21 call must go through a third party. Since then I have not installed AV software on any of my computers.

If you have problems updating the MSE anti-virus files due to a proxy server, you may want to skip the long story and jump to the last paragraph below.

My daughter started using Windows 95 at age 5 and went through the peak of virus mania circa post-2000. My wife uses the computer daily to check mail and browse the Internet but she belongs to the group of the most elementary and novice type of user you can find. So within my family you can find the full range of computer users. All our computers are running Microsoft Windows and none of them has AV software installed.

It's 10 years later and none of our computers have been infected, not even once. All our computers are connected to the Internet all the time, and web browsing and emails are the major activities.

In the last few years of my working life I struggled with evading corporate requirements to have anti-virus software. Now that I have my own small business I finally have the satisfaction of banning AV software within my company.

Lately I had to work with a customer who "needs" AV software. Not wanting the bloated stuff, I dragged my feet until MSE was released. I immediately installed it for the customer on Sep 30. But updates couldn't work. The error dialog box says:

---------------------------
Microsoft Security Essentials
---------------------------
Virus & spyware definitions update failed

Microsoft Security Essentials wasn't able to check for virus & spyware definition updates.

Make sure your computer is connected to the Internet and try again.

Click 'Help' for more information about this problem.

Error code: 0x8024402c

Error description: Microsoft Security Essentials couldn't install the definition updates because the proxy server or target server names can't be resolved.
---------------------------
OK Help
---------------------------

This customer's security people have an easy time. Management forgets to include in the KPIs of the security people the amount of business done or the level of business efficiency. So everything is prohibited. And the security people are never wrong. If something gets infected, it's because someone has asked for a waiver and indemnified and released the security people from being responsible.

So this PC is in a maximum security area, where even access to a DNS server is denied. All it can connect to is a HTTP proxy server. And names are resolved by the proxy server. So if you want to go to http://ibm.com, you tell the proxy server that and it will resolve ibm.com for you.

So why doesn't MSE updates work? Internet browsing and Windows Updates work fine on this computer. After lots of spent hours, the problem came down to one of Windows Updates not using the same credentials as the logged-in user.

January 2010 update:

To cut a long story short, MSE is using different proxy settings from IE. This is according to How the Windows Update client determines which proxy server to use.  So, even if the logged in user is using a certain manually configured proxy, Windows Update is not and is trying to connect directly.  So the trick is to use proxycfg.exe.  I simply typed the following on the command line:

proxycfg -u

and, presto, all udpates went through!  The -u option copies the proxy settings from the currently logged in user.

proxcfg has gone missing in Windows Vista and Windows 7.  You should use netsh then.  The equivalent for the above is:

netsh winhttp import proxy ie


Hope it works for you too.