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Entries Filed Under "Computers"


April 17, 2011

Upgrade to SSD

Filed under Computers, Gadgets

The best thing about electronics that break: replacing them!

My hard drive hard drive was starting to die. I don’t like the idea that the device I count on to store my data is not reliable.

I decided to try something new this time: a solid-state drive (SSD). I bought an 250GB Intel Solid-State Drive 510.

Here is my Experience Index before installing the SSD.

Original Experience Index

Here is my Experience Index after installing the SSD.

After

July 4, 2010

iTunes Hacked!

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Music

image

 

iTunes: Hello, I'm iTunes.

Zune: And I'm Zune.

iTunes: I think somebody stole my wallet!

Zune: How could that happen?

iTunes: Someone must have hacked my account.

Zune: You should call someone immediately!

iTunes: I wish! There is no support phone number for iTunes.

Zune: So what are you supposed to do?

iTunes: Email.

Zune: This is urgent! How quickly will they respond to email?

iTunes: Within 48 hours. You know how it is.

Zune: Actually, I don’t.

iTunes: Oh, you get a better response than an email back in 48 hours?

Zune: I can contact support via phone 7 days a week, from 6am until 10pm.

iTunes: Well you better contact them now!

Zune: I’ll be fine.

iTunes: Don’t be a hero, Zune! iTunes has been hacked!

Zune: iTunes…but not Zune.

 

 

Source: http://thenextweb.com/apple/2010/07/04/app-store-hacked/

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October 11, 2009

Windows 7: Linux Has Something To Worry About

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

image

Windows/DOS has had a *bad* command shell for a long time…but that is about to change with the October 22nd release of Windows 7.

Windows 7 ships with PowerShell 2.0…and it is *really* good.

PowerShell 2.0 features:

  • Unlimited output buffer (command prompt had 300 lines by default, and a max of 9999)
  • Easy text selection (command prompt could only do “screen space” selection, which made selecting multi-line text virtually impossible…no more!)
  • Aliases for standard Unix shell commands (pwd, cp, man, rm, rmdir, mv, ls, cat, grep, ps, kill, tee, clear)
  • Aliases for standard cmd.exe commands (cd, cls, copy, help, del, rmdir, rename, dir, type, find, findstr, tlist)
  • Support for paths with either forward or backward slashes
  • Support for network resources *without* mapping a drive (i.e. can do this: cd \\share\mypics)
  • All commands follow a consistent verb-noun naming convention (get-childitem, write-output, etc.) which makes the commands self descriptive and easy to learn
  • Can use standard file system commands (cd, dir, rm, cp, etc.) on…
    • The Registry
    • Environment Variables
    • Variables
    • Aliases
    • User supplied custom data
  • Command and parameter tab completion
  • Really good documentation, with examples via get-help (or help/man)
  • Script debugger with support for breakpoints, stepping, call stack, and hover over variables to see values
  • Commands are chained together via *objects* instead of text. Nice example of this powerful feature here.
  • Can output your results in rich text format to out-gridview. I *love* this feature. Read about it here.
  • Supported on Linux/Mac via Pash

Here is a nice table that compares all the different shells and their features. PowerShell comes out as the most advanced shell.

Windows 7 marks the first time Windows has had a better default shell than Linux or Mac.

Other Linux advantages that are no more with Windows 7:

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3D Cities

Filed under 3D, Computers, Software

image

This is impressive. C3 Technologies creates 3D cities. To do Stockholm took less than 3 days!

Check out the intro video on the home page.

Here is a demo of Las Vegas.

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September 11, 2009

First Windows 7 Ad

Filed under Computers, Software

Microsoft released their first Windows 7 ad a couple of days ago. It features super cute kid Kylie, previously seen here.

 

This put a smile on my face. Well done Microsoft!

 

Meanwhile, in the Matrix…

Mac’s don’t crash

You can’t get a virus on a Mac

What exactly is Apple advertising here? Have they actually used their own products?

Time to take the red pill, Apple.

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September 7, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #9

Filed under Computers, Software

Creating a new folder is easier in Win7 with a new keyboard shortcut: Ctrl-Shift-N.

I use this one all the time…and it makes me mad when I go back to Vista and can’t use it.

 

image

July 29, 2009

SIGGRAPH 2009

Filed under 3D, Animation, Celebrity, Computers, SIGGRAPH

It’s almost time! I’m heading to New Orleans on Friday for SIGGRAPH 2009. It will be my 13th in a row.

I plan on actively updating this blog (http://davidlenihan.com) and my twitter account (http://twitter.com/davidlenihan) while I’m out there. Let me know if you will be doing the same and I’ll track you.

Here are some pics from SIGGRAPH 2008 that I never got around to posting…a few computer graphic celebrities.

Jos Stam (I told him I was collecting photos of the tallest people at SIGGRAPH and he won).

P1010813

And Ken Perlin (I think he needs a new shirt…check out the link!)…

P1010817

 

SIGGRAPH uploaded a few videos to whet your appetite for the New Orleans event.

SIGGRAPH overview…

 

Technical papers previews…

Animation festival preview…

A new category at SIGGRAPH, real-time rendering animation festival…

July 8, 2009

Desktop Hunters

Filed under Computers

This is David.

image

He told us he wanted a desktop with...

"a super-fast processor with lots of cores, lots of RAM, lots of hard drive space and looks cool"

...for under $3,500.

We told him...

image

 

"I like the look of the new Dell Studio XPS 435, so let's start there."

image

"I went to dell.com and configured it just how I wanted...

image

  • 3.33GHz Intel Core i7-975 with 8 cores
  • 12GB RAM
  • 1.5TB Hard Drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 with 1024MB RAM
  • Blu-ray Burner (reads/writes CD, DVD and Blu-ray)

...for a grand total of $3,054."

 

 

"Ok, let's see what Apple has. The Mac Pro looks nice."

image"I configured an Apple Mac Pro with similar options...

image

  • 2.93GHz Intel Xeon with 8 cores
  • 12GB RAM
  • 1.0TB Hard Drive
  • ATI Radeon HD 4870 with 512MB
  • SuperDrive (read/writes CD and DVD)

...which adds up to a total of $6,549."

 

 

"The Dell Studio XPS 435 has all my qualifications. When compared to an Apple Mac Pro, the Dell has...

  • A 13% faster chip (3.33GHz vs. 2.93GHz)
  • 50% more hard drive space (1.5TB vs. 1.0TB)
  • Twice as much graphics card memory (1024MB vs. 512MB)
  • A Blu-ray reader/writer (Apple doesn't have an option for this)

...all for $3,495 less than the Apple Mac Pro."

"I'm going to buy the Dell Studio XPS 435."

image

"I got exactly what I wanted for *well* under $3,500."

 

image

"I'm a PC and my new system blows away the fastest Mac for half the price."

 

 

P.S. I am naming my new PC "Lauren."

 

 

July 2, 2009

PowerShell Gem #1

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

PowerShell is a replacement for the Windows command prompt (a.k.a. CMD).

I ran into this feature today: accessing network shares.

With CMD, you map a drive letter to a network share in order to access it. Trying to access the share directly (via the UNC name) does not work.

For example, here's what happens if I try to list the contents of a share called \\ivory\users\public directly (fails) and then via a mapped drive S: using CMD...

image

PowerShell supports UNC! No more mapping drive letters!

Check out the same task via PowerShell...

image

 

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May 12, 2009

C# vs. C++

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I am reading this document about the C# language.

Here are a list of features in C# that improve on how C++ works…

C++

C#

Reference to a class in another file of a project requires an include file No include file needed
Reference to a class in an external DLL requires an include file and the DLL’s .LIB file passed to the linker No .LIB file needed.
Add a reference to the DLL in the build(example: csc /r:external.dll helloworld.cs)
Exported symbols must use declspec or .DEF file No declspec or .DEF file.
Public symbols are exported, private/protected are not.
”internal” symbols are only available within module.
Referencing a class/structure before it is declared requires forward declaration Forward declaration not needed.
Declaration order is insignificant.

Switching to Unicode/16-bit text requires:

  • Different entry point (main/wmain)
  • Prefixing text with “L” or “_T”
  • New string manipulation functions

Unicode is the native string format

NULL is a concept, not part of the language. It is typically defined as 0 and thus is the equivalent of 0. null is a keyword. It is not equivalent to 0.
Basic data types (int, float, char, etc.) cannot accept a “null” value. Only pointers can have a “null” value.

All C# types can accept null as a value

  • For type T with null support, use type T?
  • For example, int with null support is int?
No support for “foreach” foreach keyword for iterating over a collection
Support for try and catch.
No support for "finally”
try-catch-finally support.
finally is always called, regardless of exception or not
No notification of overflow operations.
For example:
unsigned x = UINT_MAX;
x++;
// x == 0 now, no exception thrown
Using checked/unchecked you can get overflow or exception thrown behavior
No native support for critical sections lock keyword for critical sections
For switch statements, break is optional. break is required (to prevent bugs from accidentally forgetting to add break)
No built-in documentation XML documentation via “///”- prefixed comment. Used by IntelliSense in Visual Studio
Cannot split the definition of a class across multiple files Partial classes allow breaking up a source file (useful when multiple people are working on a class or when part of a class is auto-generated)
No support for mixing versions of libraries Can mix library versions without breaking existing code.
Developer must manage deletion of memory and potential issues from reading/writing to invalid memory

Garbage collection:

  • No memory leaks
  • Can’t read uninitialized variables
  • Can’t index past array boundaries
Types do not share a common root All types derived from base “object”

 

April 26, 2009

In Search of the Perfect Keyboard

Filed under Computers, Gadgets

I have had 6 different keyboards in the last 2 years. I’m always looking for the *perfect* keyboard. My perfect keyboard would have…

  • Backlighting
  • Volume knob
  • Media keys
  • Standard layout
  • Wireless (with *no* dropped keystrokes or delays)
  • Thin profile
  • Pointing stick (so I can use the mouse without taking my fingers off the keys)
  • Small footprint

I don’t think that keyboard exists.

I got a new Logitech keyboard this week. So far, I’m happy with it.

My favorite so far is the Dell Multimedia Keyboard (see end of post).

 

Here are the last 5 keyboards I’ve had in reverse chronological order and what I liked/didn’t like about them.

Logitech Illuminated Keyboard

image

Pro

  • Backlit
  • Cool looking/thin
  • No wasted “extra” keys
  • Volume keys
  • Function keys have normal operation first (can be changed)
  • Small footprint

Con

  • Non-standard layout (delete key/insert key/scroll lock)
  • Not wireless
  • Uses volume buttons instead of knob
  • Media keys don’t work well with Zune player (opened a support item on this)

 

Microsoft Wired Keyboard 600

image Pro

  • Standard layout
  • Calculator hot key
  • Volume keys
  • Small footprint

Con

  • Delay with volume keys
  • Not illuminated
  • Not wireless

 

Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 6000

imagePro

  • Slight curve to keyboard is nice without being radically different than standard keyboard
  • Wireless
  • Good looking/thin

Con

  • Non-standard function key layout
  • Hard to tell which keys were volume keys
  • Not illuminated
  • Many special keys that I never used
  • Sometimes pressing keys would do nothing, reconnecting USB transmitter fixed issue

Microsoft Reclusa Gaming Keyboard

imagePro

  • Backlit

Con

  • Big
  • Extra buttons I don’t care about
  • No volume controls
  • No media keys
  • Flakey keyboard management software
  • Not wireless

 

Dell USB Multimedia Keyboard

imagePro

  • Excellent volume knob! Can easily turn it up/down quickly by feel. *Much* better than volume keys.
  • Media keys layout around volume knob works well. Track forward/back different size than other media keys so they can be used by feel.
  • Standard keyboard layout
  • Small footprint

Con

  • Not backlit
  • Not wireless

 

New Feature in Windows 7 Revealed: XP Mode

Filed under Computers, Software

image

The above screen shot looks straight forward enough, but there is something special going on.

Look at the window decorations. The application on the left is IE 6 running under XP and the application on the right is IE 8 running under Windows 7.

On Friday, XP Mode was announced as a new feature for Windows 7 Professional, Ultimate, and Enterprise. XP Mode is basically Windows XP emulated within Windows 7, with the added ability to run the XP applications side-by-side Windows 7 applications.

This is a big deal.

One of the reasons companies are slow to upgrade to the latest version of an OS is fear that applications designed for their current OS won’t work in the new OS.

Any company thinking of upgrading to Vista should keep this in mind…

  • Windows 7 runs better on low end hardware than Windows Vista
  • Windows 7 is more compatible with Windows XP than Window Vista

I hope this means we see a very quick adoption of Windows 7…I think it will.

March 27, 2009

Microsoft Attacks Apple!

Filed under Computers, Software

This is fun…

<br/><a href="http://video.msn.com/video.aspx?vid=0bb6a07c-c829-4562-8375-49e6693810c7" target="_new" title="Laptop Hunters $1000 - Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion">Video: Laptop Hunters $1000 - Lauren Gets an HP Pavilion</a>

 

March 21, 2009

I’m a PC

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

I really like this ad…

 

Here are two more “I’m a PC” ads: Alexa and Adam. All Microsoft ads are here.

From an advertising standpoint, I’m impressed with how Microsoft dealt with the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads.

It is interesting to compare the contrasting styles of the ads:

  • Hollywood actors vs. real people
  • White background set vs. real places
  • Attacking the competition vs. showing how your product works

By embracing the “I’m a PC” catchphrase and putting a positive spin on it, Apple’s “I’m a Mac” ads are now connected to Microsoft’s “I’m a PC” ads.

Is this why we haven’t seen a new “I’m a Mac” ad since Christmas 2008?

March 1, 2009

UI…from the Future

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

Microsoft posted a *very* slick 2 minute video of user interface concepts they imagine will be in use 10 years from now…

 

A longer (5 min) version with more focus on the UI’s is here…

 

Exciting stuff!

Things that jumped out at me:

  • The “transparent” wall conversation between the kid in the US and and the kid in India
  • The single credit card that contains all of your cards
  • The interactive newspaper
  • The arrow on the ground at the airport that leads you where you need to go
  • Zooming in and out by bringing a device closer/further from you
  • The “transparent” coffee cup that shows the liquid level and temperature
  • Devices that are completely wrapped in a screen so the the entire device is a drawing surface

February 1, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #8

Filed under Computers, Software

Burn Disc Image

burn disc image

 

I found this today after I downloaded the Windows 7 SDK Beta. The download comes as an .ISO disc image file that must be burnt to a DVD before using.

In the past, you needed a separate utility to do this…but not anymore.

Just double-click on the .ISO file and you get the above dialog box…easy!

January 26, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #7

Filed under Computers, Software

new appAfter you install an application, how do you start it?

Some apps place a shortcut on your desktop (NO! My desktop is messy enough!)

Some apps add a shortcut to the quick launch toolbar or Start Menu (NO! How dare you think you are important enough to be part of my frequently used apps!)

Some apps ask you if you want to run the app after installation is finished (NO! Just install the software and let me run the app when I want to!)

In the Start Menu, Vista will highlight “All Programs” and the newly created program folder so you can find your recently installed app easier.

Windows 7 adds an additional mechanism: The newly installed application shows up highlighted in the Start Menu’s recent program list. Nice! A standard place to look for software you recently installed.

Hopefully this will signal an end to installation software that…

  • Pollutes the desktop and the Start Menu with shortcuts to apps we don’t want
  • Asks us if we want to run the app after installation is finished

 

January 25, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #6

Filed under Computers, Software

Windows 7 includes new windows management shortcuts that have already changed the way I work. The internal names for the new functionality are Aero Snap, Aero Shake, and Aero Peek.

“Aero Snap”

Function Mouse Mouse Restore Keyboard Keyboard Restore
Maximize Drag window to top Drag window down Win key-Up Arrow Win key-Down Arrow
Fill left half of screen Drag window to left Drag window to right Win key-Left Arrow Win key-Right Arrow
Fill right half of screen Drag window to right Drag window to left Win key-Right Arrow Win key-Left Arrow
Maximize vertically Drag window border to top or bottom Drag window down None None
Minimize None None Win key-Down Arrow None

By far, the feature I use the most is dragging windows to the left and right. It makes it really easy to work in one application while referencing another.

image

“Aero Shake”

Function Mouse Mouse Restore Keyboard Keyboard Restore
Minimize all but this Drag window back and forth rapidly Drag window back and forth rapidly Win key-Home Win key-Home

This is just nice when your desktop gets filled with lots of windows and you want to focus on the task at hand.

 

“Aero Peek”

Function Mouse Mouse Restore Keyboard Keyboard Restore
Temporarily show desktop and gadgets Move to bottom-right corner Move mouse out of corner Win key-Space Release Win key
Show desktop and gadgets Click bottom-right corner Click bottom-right corner Win key-D Win key-D

I think the main reason you would want to see your desktop temporarily is to check the status of gadgets (check weather, news, sports, system status, etc). In Windows 7, the Sidebar is gone and all gadgets go to the desktop.

I didn’t use the Sidebar in Vista because it took too much screen space. In Vista, you could also place gadgets on the desktop, where they were easily forgotten. Because of the ability to quickly peek at the desktop in Windows 7, I expect I’ll use gadgets more.

Here is a video that shows most of this functionality in action.

 

January 20, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #5

Filed under Computers, Software

The start menu power button.

 

Here is how things work in Vista…

image

Vista’s Power Button

The power button is actually three buttons: power, lock, and a popup menu that shows 7 options:

  • Switch User
  • Log Off
  • Lock
  • Restart
  • Sleep
  • Hibernate
  • Shut Down

You can configure what the power button does by going to:

Start->Control Panel->Power Options->Change Plan Settings->Change Advanced Power Settings->Power buttons and lid->Start menu power button->Setting:

You have the following choices:

  • Sleep
  • Hibernate
  • Shut Down

 

 

Windows 7 improves/simplifies several aspects…

 

power button - popup

  • The lock button has been removed (which makes the power button bigger and thus an easier hit target)
  • The power button now states what it does explicitly via text instead of a symbol
  • The hibernate option was removed from the popup
  • The duplicated function is removed from the popup. In the above screenshot, “Shutdown” is not in the popup because you can access it by clicking on the power button “Shutdown.”

Configuring what the power button does is much easier. Right-click on the power button and select “Properties”…

power button - configure

The power button has 6 options:

  • Switch User
  • Log off
  • Lock
  • Restart
  • Sleep
  • Shutdown

 

start - restart

In Vista, there was no way to map “restart”, “switch user”, or “log off” to the power button.

I welcome “restart”, since I never turn off my computer. No need to click on the popup menu because I can click on restart directly: one less mouse click.

One less button, 2 less menu items, easier configuring with more functionality. I like.

January 19, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #4

Filed under Computers, Software

Vista introduced buttons that “glow” outside of their boundaries with the minimize/maximize/close buttons in the upper-right corner of a window.

Windows 7 adds another button to the glow-club: the “Start Orb.”

 

start orb normal

Normal Start Orb

 

start orb glow

Start Orb with mouse-over

 

Buttons usually have a different look when you mouse-over them so that the user understands they can click on them.

The glow effect is the same, except it spills out of the button’s boundaries. I supposed the spill-over effect makes it more clear that this is a system button instead of an application button?

…or maybe it just looks cool.

January 18, 2009

Windows 7 Gem #3

Filed under Computers, Software

image

The Windows Memory Diagnostic tool verifies your RAM is functioning as it should. It is not something you need very often, but nice when you suspect your hardware is malfunctioning.

This tool was initially included in Vista, but I never noticed it. In Windows 7, it lives in Control Panel->All Control Panel Items->Administrative Tools->Windows Memory Diagnostic.

Windows 7 Gem #2

Filed under Computers, Software

sticky notes

Sticky Notes…the virtual version of Post-it Notes.

Vista had Sticky Notes, but they were for pen or voice input only. The version in Windows 7 is keyboard-based…which means I’ll actually use it.

It is very simple. The only options are:

  • Create new note (+)
  • Delete this note (X)
  • Enter the text of your note
  • Change the color of your note

Windows 7 Gem #1

Filed under Computers, Software

notification - all white

The most obvious change in Windows 7 is the new taskbar (a.k.a. “superbar”).

There are a lot of changes with the new taskbar. I’m going to focus on the notification area of the taskbar (the lower right) with this post. The notification area for Windows 7 is pictured above.

The notification area now has a color scheme…

  • All normal information is in white
  • Problems are in red
  • Successful operations are indicated in green

The “sound waves” for the volume indicator were green in Vista, but now they are white in Windows 7 (Vista notification area below).

image

The net result: if there is something red/green in the notification area, it really gets your attention.

Another nice touch: the network connection indicator shows your Wi-Fi signal strength instead of the two monitors that light up green on send/receive…much more useful!

If you click on the network connection indicator, you get a popup menu list of networks you can join…

network notification

Previously, clicking on the network connection indicator took you to a dialog…

image

The popup in Windows 7 saves you from opening a dialog. One less mouse click for everybody. 

All problems that need your attention go with the white flag (“Action Center”). This means the notification area will stay minimal, even with many applications running (if they all use the Action Center like they should).

I turned on virus software monitoring and this is what the notification area looks like now…

image

If you click on the flag, you get this…

action center notification

The clock now has the date! Previously, you had to hover over the time to get the date.

safely remove

Safely Remove Hardware is hidden under the popup menu on the left end of the notification area.

Instead of opening an additional dialog (which requires pressing “Close” when you are done), you now get a simple popup menu. Again, a UI change that reduces the number of mouse clicks to accomplish a task.

The list is much easier to read now since each item has unique identifiable names (previously, everything was called “USB Mass Storage Device”). The old Safely Remove Hardware dialog is here…

image

All very subtle changes, but they add up to improve your experience.

January 17, 2009

Greetings From Windows 7

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

image

I installed the public beta of Windows 7 this week.

If you have any interest in giving Windows 7 a test drive or providing Microsoft feedback on improving Windows, I recommend you download it now (and write down the activation key). The public beta will close on January 24th. Here is where you get the free download.

My initial impression…I *love* it.

I love Vista, so it should come as no surprise that I love Windows 7 even more. Windows 7 is basically Windows Vista with some polish.

I’m shocked at all the positive press Windows 7 is getting from people that hated Vista. If you hate Vista, you should hate Windows 7…period (I’m looking at you PC Magazine).

I’ve been jotting down notes about new things I like in Windows 7. I’ll start posting my Windows 7 Gems soon.

_____________________________
Sent from Microsoft Windows 7

January 6, 2009

The Apple MacBook Wheel

Filed under Computers, Funny, Gadgets

This is a big week for gadget lovers with CES and MacWorld about to get started.

Here is the first cool new gadget I’ve heard about: Apple’s latest laptop adopts the iPod click wheel…


Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

 

December 16, 2008

OpenGL R.I.P.

Filed under 3D, Computers, DirectX, Programming, Software

opengl_rip

I have been an OpenGL developer for more than 10 years. OpenGL was *the* 3D API for computer graphics since 1992…but not anymore. Direct3D has left OpenGL in the dust…and this is a big deal.

It has been clear for several years that OpenGL is struggling to keep up with Direct3D and every year the gap gets wider. This article does a great job detailing OpenGL’s problems.

If your OpenGL app competes with a Direct3D one…you need to be worried. It is not a fair fight. Direct3D is pushing the envelope for hardware features, which means a Direct3D app can run faster or look better than an OpenGL app on equivalent hardware.

Currently, managing shaders in OpenGL and Direct3D is painful. The next version of Direct3D (DirectX 11) dramatically improves how you combine small shaders into into larger, more complex shaders. This change alone will make OpenGL seem antiquated from a developer’s point of view.

OpenGL is the only cross-platform 3D API. As OpenGL falls further and further behind Direct3D, you’ll see less 3D apps on platforms that depend on OpenGL (like Linux and Apple Mac’s).

In the beginning, SGI was pushing OpenGL…until they got out of the graphics business. Then 3DLabs pushed OpenGL to create its shading language (GLSL)…until they got out of the graphics business.

Who is pushing OpenGL now? Nvidia? ATI? Both of those companies have more interest in Direct3D than they do OpenGL.

Without a major corporate sponsor, I don’t see how OpenGL will carry on. I’m actually surprised Apple hasn’t been a bigger supporter of OpenGL considering how important it is to them.

It was fun while it lasted…we’ll miss ya.

December 14, 2008

What I Use

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software, Web

Here is a list of software, hardware, and web sites that I use at home.

Software

Operating System Vista Ultimate SP1
Programming C++/C# Visual Studio 2008
Debugging Utilities Dependency Walker
Process Monitor
Blogging Windows Live Writer Beta
Web Browsing Internet Explorer 8 Beta
Music Manager Zune 3.1
Email/Calendar/Contacts/To Do’s Outlook 2007
Word Processing Word 2007
Spreadsheets Excel 2007
Personal Finance Quicken 2007
3D Package Maya 8.0
Image Editing Photoshop CS3
Video Editing Premiere Pro CS3
DVD Authoring Encore CS3
Vector Editing Illustrator CS3
Video Compositing After Effects CS3
Sound Editing Soundbooth CS3
MP3 Purchase Zune Marketplace
Amazon MP3
Printing Utility FinePrint
Text Editor Notepad++
Diff Files/Folders Araxis Merge
FTP SmartFTP
Web Hosting 1&1
Weblog Publishing System (for creating davidlenihan.com) Movable Type

 

Hardware

MP3 Player Zune 120 GB
Sansa Clip (for jogging)
PhatBox (for car)
Computer Dell Dimension E520
Monitor/speakers Dell 24” LCD 2407WFP
Laptop Lenovo Ideapad U110
Printer/Scanner/Copier HP Photosmart 3310 All-In-One
Keyboard Microsoft Wireless Keyboard 6000
Mouse Microsoft Explorer Mouse
3D Mouse 3Dconnexion Spaceball 5000

 

Web

Home Page iGoogle
RSS Reader Google Reader
Search Engine Google
Social Networking Facebook
Linkedin
Micro-blogging Twitter


November 28, 2008

WinSxS Disk Space Usage: It’s Not What You Think

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

One common complaint about the winsxs folder is that it takes up too much space.

My winsxs takes up almost 9 GB!image

Or does it?

According to this post by Microsoft, WinSxS has many duplicated files. The files are are *not* copies, but are instead “hard links” that point to the same data, and thus do not take up any extra space. Microsoft says a typical WinSxS folder contains around 400 MB of data.

The problem is that DIR and Explorer are not aware of the difference between an actual file and a hard link to a file. The disk usage reported by these two programs is as if each hard link *is* an actual file.

I did my own test to verify Microsoft’s claim. I created a small file called “original.txt” that uses 10 bytes. Then I created 10 hard links to the original file via the command line:

mklink /h hardlink<NUM>.txt original.txt

As expected, both DIR and explorer report that I’m using 110 bytes instead of just the 10 bytes of the original file:

 

image

image Symbolic links, on the other hand, work as expected and are recognized by both DIR and explorer.

I created symbolic links using this command line:

mklink symboliclink<NUM>.txt original.txt

Here are the results of DIR:

image Notice that only the original file reports any disk usage. The total directory size is only the original file, even though 11 files are detected. Also note that all the symbolic links are listed as “<SYMLINK>” and have a reference to the source of the symbolic link in []’s.

Here is what explorer looks like with symbolic links:

image

Explorer does the right thing and lists that the directory only contains 10 bytes. The symbolic links have “shortcut” indictors on top of the source icon. The file size for symbolic links are listed as 0 KB.

November 12, 2008

Kernel Panic is the New BSOD

Filed under Computers, Funny, Software

image Here is an iPhone window display in an AT&T store in Boston. The display is running on a Mac…that crashed.

image

That’s a Mac kernel panic, which is like a BSOD, except it doesn’t give you any information about why your computer locked up.

Here’s a Mac kernel panic caught on video…

This one is interesting…a Mac guy talking about working on a Mac…

 

I thought Macs didn’t crash! Where would I get that idea? Hmm…

Also, next time you visit an Apple Store, notice that they have no cash registers! Instead, employee’s have a wireless checkout device…that runs Windows.

 

November 3, 2008

Windows 7 New UI

Filed under Computers, Software

image

At PDC last week, Microsoft revealed some major UI changes in the follow-on to Vista, Windows 7.

I watched two videos today that demo'ed the redesigned Taskbar and Explorer.

There is a lot to like. If you are interested in this stuff, definitely check out the videos.

WinSuperSite also has an overview of both the Taskbar and Explorer. The photos don't do the UI justice...you need to see the demo videos to appreciate the changes.

image

Things I liked about the new Taskbar:

  • Quick Launch Bar, Running App's, Application Notification, Toolbars (like Windows Media Player) all integrated into a single UI with large icons
  • Can rearrange order of icons
  • Jump Lists: without opening an app, you can pick the recent files or perform common tasks (like continue a playlist in Media Player)
  • When you hover on an app that is running, you get thumbnails of *all* the open documents for that app (not just one like Vista). If the app uses tabs (like web browsers), you can see complete views of each tab (see above photo of 3 tabs of IE).
  • Peek: When you mouse over one of the thumbnails, the actual window on your desktop becomes visible and all other windows fade away. This is better than other app switchers because the size and location of the app are unchanged and thus more quickly identifiable.
  • Thumbnails can have custom controls. For example, Media Player has play/fast forward/rewind buttons that you can press without switching to Media player (replaces functionality of the Media Player Toolbar)
  • App's can change their Icons for notification. For example, prior to Windows 7, Outlook used a notification icon in the bottom right to indicate a new mail message. With Windows 7, the Outlook icon for the running app can show the new mail icon.
  • Windows 7 icons are larger than Vista icons, yet take up less space because no text is shown.
  • Progress bars are integrated into the app icon...no need to keep track of an extra window dedicated to a progress bar
  • No "classic" Taskbar...this *will* be the Taskbar for Windows 7

image

Things I like about the new Explorer:

  • Search (in the upper-right corner) still uses properties (like "tag:SIGGRAPH" or "name:*.jpg"). Most people don't know about using properties for search. With Windows 7, a *super* slick UI helps you choose properties and shows you how to type the search directly as text (see the demo video for picking a date range)
  • Libraries: Libraries are a collection of locations with a common data type. For example, if you add a 2nd hard drive for video storage, you just add the 2nd hard drive to the "Video Library" and both hard drives appear as one in Explorer's views of the video library and search results. Libraries looks like the way Windows will move away from drive letters finally.
  • Search results highlight the matching content (both in filename or file contents).
  • Order of search results is more logical with filename matches before file content matches.

PDC has a *ton* of information on upcoming software from Microsoft and all of the presentations are available online here.

September 21, 2008

Vista Gem #8

Filed under Computers, Software

Yesterday I ran into a photo that I've had for over a year that was corrupt...half the picture was missing...

image

 

What to do?

Use "Previous Versions," a new feature in Vista.

How? Just right click on a file/folder, choose "Properties"  and then click on the "Previous Versions" tab...

 

image

Previous Versions found a backed up copy of my picture. I clicked on "Restore..." and got this dialog...

image

I choose the last option "Copy, but keep both files" so I could compare the files after the restore.

image

It worked! I got my file back. And I didn't have to switch to the backup/restore utility to get it...I did this all from Explorer.

I run a nightly backup, which is how Previous Versions rescued my file. If you haven't run a backup, then Previous Versions uses "Shadow Copies" of your files. Shadow Copies are done daily and at "restore points." It looks like backups reset shadow copies, so I don't have any.

August 28, 2008

Mojave Update

Filed under Computers, Software

The guys behind the Mojave Experiment have updated the site to address some of the biggest concerns. New to the site are interviews with the guys that ran the experiment, the demos they showed, and the hardware they used.

There is also a new web site called the "Windows Vista Compatibility Center" that lists hardware and software that will and won't work with Vista. Very helpful!

Here is a good interview with the guy that thought up the Mojave Experiment, David Webster. Expect the Mojave Experiment to move from the web to TV soon to reach a larger audience.

Also, the new Seinfeld Vista ads should hit TV Sept 4th.

image

July 29, 2008

On a scale of 1 to 10, I give Vista a Zero

Filed under Computers, Software

image

This is pretty interesting...an ad campaign by Microsoft to combat the uninformed opinion that Vista is crap.

It basically echoes what I run into constantly: the people that have the strongest opinions against Vista have never used it.

Click this link to watch the "Mojave Experiment."

The fact page is worth checking out, too.

Don't be an iSheep...use your brain.

Vista Gem #7

Filed under Computers, Software

The Resource Monitor is a new tool for Vista that helps track down performance issues.

image

To start the Resource Monitor...

  1. Right click on an empty part of the taskbar and select "Task Manager" (or press Ctrl-Shift-Esc)
  2. Select the "Performance" tab
  3. Click the "Resource Monitor..." button at the bottom right

 

image

Resource Monitor tracks your CPU and memory like Task Manger does. But, it also tracks disk and network activity.

If any of the charts are pegged, click on it to get more detailed information.

I sort by the following columns to see who is responsible for the resource use:

  • CPU: CPU column
  • Disk: Either the Read or Write column
  • Network: Total column
  • Memory: Hard Faults

I found this tool *very* helpful...I will be using it more in the future.

 

June 26, 2008

Mac can Learn from Vista Security

Filed under Computers

 

Apple fanboys believe their beloved Mac is impervious to viruses. The commercial above certainly seems to make that point.

I thought of this ad when I learned about a new exploit discovered this week for the Mac. It is a Trojan horse that can be bundled with a downloadable Mac application. The Trojan will install a keystroke logger and give someone remote access to your Mac.

The part that *really* caught my attention was the discussion of what Apple should do to protect its users from harmful software:

MAKE MAC SECURITY MORE LIKE WINDOWS VISTA

The author suggests 5 things that can be done to make the Mac more secure against these attacks...all 5 are already done in Vista.

Cupertino, start your photocopiers!

Just like to stir up the nest every once in a while. :)

June 14, 2008

New Laptop

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Reviews

image

I got a new laptop last week. It is a Lenovo IdeaPad 110. Lenovo was previously IBM's laptop division responsible for ThinkPads.

The main reason I went with this one is how light/small it is and it still has a good keyboard. It weighs less than 2.5 pounds and easily fits in my backpack.

I am writing this from a restaurant. I have been running with the extended battery (comes with a regular and extended standard). I've been here for more than 2 hours and my battery indicator says I can go for another hour. I haven't done any tweaking to conserve power, so I could probably go longer. With the settings I have on now, the computer is very responsive and the screen is nice and bright.

I am using my AT&T Tilt's Bluetooth connection for Internet access.

It has a very unique/engaging look...which is very important around here when you have to do battle with all the Apple-fanboys.

The face recognition (via integrated web cam) login works surprisingly well, as long as the light is decent. At first I thought this would be a gimmick, but I rarely type my password anymore. As soon as I sit in front of my laptop, it logs me in. You also have the option to use your face for Internet passwords, which is very handy.

I got my laptop from J&R. I bought it for $1999, which was $100 more than what you get if you order from Lenovo directly. Currently, you can't configure the laptop. However, the version from J&R has integrated Bluetooth and 3GB of RAM (Lenovo's site is selling 2GB of RAM with no Bluetooth). Bluetooth is critical for me because I expect to use it for my Internet connection and I don't want to deal with add-on cards. The extra RAM is nice, but I don't actually need it for what I'm doing

So far, I love it.

I plan on using it for email, Internet, blogging, and a C# project I've been planning for a while.

Here is a video to get an idea of what it looks like. It definitely draws attention.

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June 11, 2008

Vista Gem #6

Filed under Computers, Software

Resizing a partition used to require PartitionMagic...but no more! Vista has shrinking/growing partitions built into "Disk Management."

I bought a new laptop this past week and it came with the hard drive broken up into a C: drive and a D: drive. I *hate* multiple drive letters, so I deleted D: and extended C: to take up the extra space using Disk Management. Works great!

To bring up Disk Management:

Start->Control Panel->Search->partition->Create and format hard disk partitions

image

Right click on a drive letter and you should see two new menu options in Vista:

  • Extend Volume (if you have unallocated space)
  • Shrink Volume

This is the dialog box you get with Shrink Volume...

image

May 27, 2008

Vista's Natural Language Search is *EVIL*

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

image Vista has a *much* improved search engine over XP. As soon as you create a new file, it is instantly indexed and ready for fast searching.

I found an interesting setting for search called "use natural language search", which is off by default.

You can find it via Start->Control Panel->Appearance and Personalization->Folder Options->Search->Use natural language search.

Sadly, there is no documentation on this page for what exactly natural language search (NLS) is.

This page explains it (about mid-way down).

Basically, NLS applies all your search terms to any possible property without explicitly indicating the property. NLS also does not require capitalization of boolean filters like "AND", "NOT", and "OR."

Here are a couple of example searches without and with natural language search:

Without natural language With natural language
kind: music artist: (Beethoven OR Mozart) music Beethoven or Mozart
kind: document author: (Charlie AND Herb) document Charlie and Herb

The documentation says this about NLS...

Even with natural language search turned on, you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way. If you want to use Boolean filters or introduce filters with colons and parentheses, you can. In addition, you can use all the same properties to fine-tune your searches. The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way. Here are some examples:
  • email today
  • documents 2006
  • author Susan
  • pictures vacation

Note Some searches might give more results than you expect. For example, if you search for "email today" you will see all messages sent today as well as any messages with the word "today" in the contents.

Let me give some background before I tell you why the above lines are highlighted red.

I've spent the last couple of weeks trying to figure out why Vista's search could not find a file I have in my documents folder called "music to get.txt." Other files in the same directory could be found, but this one was problematic. I tried rebuilding the search database several times and narrowing the searchable directories down to just one folder with "music to get.txt".

It didn't matter...Vista's search could not find the file.

Then, I happened to turn *off* NLS today and guess what? Vista easily can find "music to get.txt"!

The issue appears related to the spaces in the filename. If NLS is turned on, then I have to search for:

"music to get"

...instead of...

music to get

NLS would not even match...

music

...I had to start with a quote to get a matching file...

"music

Those lines in red above are *LIES*!!!

you can continue to use the Search box in exactly the same way.

With NLS on, you must remember to put a filename in quotes if it contains a space. I didn't have to do that with NLS off.

The difference is that you can enter searches in a more casual way

I don't considering having to add quotes to my search more casual than not using them at all.

Some searches might give more results than you expect

And in the case of filenames with spaces, some searches won't give you *any* results when they should.

My advice:

TURN OFF NATURAL LANGUAGE SEARCH!

May 26, 2008

Freakonomics

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Reviews

image I finished my first audiobook last week: Freakonomics.

I downloaded "Freakonomics: Revised Edition (Unabridged)" from iTunes for $21.95. The audiobook is about 7 hours long.

I started listening to Freakonomics on my iPod for my walk to/from work.

This is a very interesting, thought-provoking read/listen.

Probably the most memorable topic was about the dramatic drop in crime (40% drop in homicides) in the early 90's and its connection to legalized abortion. It's a touchy subject, but handled in a factual manner without choosing sides in the abortion debate.

Other topics were about what parenting techniques work and which ones don't:

  • Reading to your child every night (doesn't help)
  • Letting your child watch TV (doesn't hurt)
  • Stay at home moms (doesn't help)

The findings are that kids do well when their parents do well, independent of how the child is raised. It's who you *are* as parents that is important, not what you *do* as parents.

Another question the book tackles...which is safer: a house with a gun or a house with a pool? The answer: a child is 100 times more likely to die at a house that has a pool than one with a gun present.

I recommend both Freakonomics and the medium of audiobooks.

I already finished another audiobook, Stephen King's "The Gingerbread Girl (Unabridged)." It was a short listen (about 2 hours) and kept me entertained.

My next audiobook is Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451.

May 18, 2008

PowerShell 2.0 CTP2

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

The newest version of PowerShell came out a couple of weeks ago. You can get it here.

The command name tab completion now works (it didn't in CTP1) in the Graphical Windows PowerShell...which is the main reason I stayed away from CTP1.

There is a really cool new feature in CTP2's... Out-GridView.

Out-GridView takes console table data and displays it in a GUI that has these features:

  • Search (lines that don't match are removed as you type)
  • Sort by columns
  • Group by columns
  • Filtering

Here's what it looks like when I asked for a list of running services by typing "get-service | out-gridview"...

image

I like that *way* better than the traditional/non-interactive console output that looks like this...

image

Filtering is very helpful for getting to the data you want. Here it is in action:

image

I'm *really* excited about Graphical Windows PowerShell.

With this release, I'm going to start using it as my standard shell on my home PC and once the final version comes out, I'll probably start using it at work. This is software that will make you more efficient the better you know how to use it. Start learning it now!

Highly recommended!

April 2, 2008

Vista SP1

Filed under Computers, Software

I tried to update to SP1 last week via Windows Update, but I kept getting an error:

Some Updates were not installed

Failed: 1 update

Error(s) found:

Code 80070246

I tried using Dell support, but none of their suggestions worked and they told me I should work with Microsoft and gave me an 800 number.

My brother pointed me to this article that says Microsoft is giving free support to anybody having problems with installing SP1. I could have used the 800 number Dell gave me, but I prefer email, so I used this support page suggested by the article.

Microsoft had me run the System File Checker tool (SFC.exe). It is supposed to repair system files.

To run SFC.exe...

  1. Start->All Programs->Accessories
  2. Right-click "Command Prompt" and choose "Run as administrator"
  3. At the command prompt, type "sfc /scannow"

When I ran it, the scan quit before it reached 100% with an error...

clip_image002

Microsoft then suggested I do the following:

Given this situation, I suggest we continue the following steps to troubleshooting:

1. Click "Start", click "All Programs", click "Accessories", right-click "Command Prompt", and then click "Run as administrator". 
2. In the User Account Control dialog box, click "Continue". 

3. Input the following commands in the DOS Prompt window and press ENTER at the end of each line:
REG   ADD   HKLM\COMPONENTS   /V   STORECORRUPTTIMESTAMP   /T   REG_SZ   /D   "0"   /F
REG   DELETE    HKLM\SOFTWARE\MICROSOFT\WINDOWS\CURRENTVERSION\CHECKSUR\
Note: You can copy the above commands, right click in the opened command window, and then choose Paste. Press ENTER and you will receive a message "The operation completed successfully". You may receive an error message indicating that the related registry key does not exist. Please continue to perform the remaining steps.
4. Please download and run CheckSUR tool from the link below according to your System Type:
CheckSUR tool for Windows Vista 32-bit
http://download.microsoft.com/download/5/0/4/504c8468-9e77-4331-9327-1dba0b43ccd1/Windows6.0-KB947821-x86.msu
CheckSUR tool for Windows Vista 64-bit
http://download.microsoft.com/download/4/e/b/4eb4efa7-a893-4fb7-aac7-2db2003972d5/Windows6.0-KB947821-x64.msu
5. Double click on the downloaded file to run the CheckSUR tool and restart the computer to check the results.

Can we install SP1 now?

After I did these steps...I was able to install SP1!

image

I tried running sfc.exe again, and it now completes successfully...

image

I was pleasantly surprised at how helpful Microsoft was. When I initially submitted my request for help, I got a response the next morning. I went on vacation and could not try their suggestions for a few days. I got an email everyday asking how things were going and what my status was.

I'm not sure what caused my system to be non-SP1 friendly, but all is well now.

*UPDATE 1/3/08*

Here is more information about CheckSUR (the tool that fixed my problem). From the link...

What is CheckSUR?

System resources, such as file data, registry data, and even in-memory data, can develop inconsistencies during the lifetime of the operating system. These inconsistencies may be caused by various hardware failures or by software issues. In some cases, these inconsistencies can affect the Windows Servicing Store, and they can cause a Windows Vista update to fail. When the update fails, it blocks the user from installing updates and service packs. CheckSUR addresses this issue.
When Windows Update detects inconsistencies that are related to system servicing in system files or in the registry, Windows Update offers CheckSUR as an available update package. The package titles are as follows:

  • Update for Windows Vista (KB947821)
  • Update for Windows Vista for x64-based Systems (KB947821)

Note This Windows Update or Automatic Update package will only be offered if such inconsistencies have been detected on the system. CheckSUR should run automatically after it has been installed from Windows Update.

What does CheckSUR do?

Currently, CheckSUR verifies the integrity of the following resources that can affect Windows Update in Windows Vista:

  • Files that are located under the following directories:
    • %systemroot%\Servicing\Packages
    • %systemroot%\WinSxS\Manifests
  • Registry data under the following registry subkeys:
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\COMPONENTS
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Schema
    • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Component Based Servicing

Note This list may be updated at any time.


When CheckSUR detects incorrect manifests, files, or registry data, CheckSUR may replace the incorrect data with a corrected version.

 

March 18, 2008

SIGGRAPH 2008

Filed under 3D, Animation, Computers, SIGGRAPH, Software

image

I registered for SIGGRAPH 2008 this morning. This year it will be in Los Angeles August 11-15.

Registration opened yesterday. Register before July 4th for the best rates. Become a SIGGRAPH member and save $50.

One notable difference this year: no Electronic Theater viewing day selection in the registration. I actually can't find any mention of the ET. The closest was this quote about Computer Animation Festival changes:

Computer Animation Festival
For SIGGRAPH 2008, the festival has adopted a new format. Each day of the conference, it presents competition screenings, showcase screenings, and panel discussions with filmmakers, instructors, and artists involved in the creative process. The traditional Animation Theaters will not be available for SIGGRAPH 2008.

I hope this doesn't signal an end to the ET...it is one of my favorite parts of SIGGRAPH.

Sounds like several things have changed (or at least changed names).

Here's a list of future SIGGRAPH's...

Year Location
2008 Los Angeles
2009 New Orleans
2010 Los Angeles
2011 Vancouver (first time held outside of the US)

This will be my 12th SIGGRAPH in a row! It never gets old!

March 15, 2008

ObjectDock

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software

image

I noticed a co-worker had some cool Mac-effects on his Windows box. He was using ObjectDock, a free utility.

I've tried it on my work XP box and my home Vista box, and it works equally well in both OS's.

Above is a screen shot of my current Vista desktop. I turned off the Windows taskbar and I'm using ObjectDock exclusively now.

It's definitely fun to play with.

The one thing I wish it could do is show the taskbar notifications AND open windows. The property page only lets you do windows OR system tray (notification area)...not both:

image

As a work around, I added a system tray dock at the top of my screen. You can see it "hidden" in the top photo and expanded below. It will suffice, but I'd like to have all this in the same dock at the bottom of the screen. The ability to add extra docks is part of ObjectDock Plus, which cost $20.

image

February 12, 2008

InkSeine

Filed under Computers, Software

image

Here is some cool new UI research from Microsoft Research for tablet computing called "InkSeine" (rhymes with "insane"). Very cool stuff! Makes me want a tablet PC!

February 9, 2008

Vista Boot Time

Filed under Computers, Reviews

I noticed that my boot up time had increased significantly and I didn't know why. I don't reboot very often, so it's not a big deal, but I was curious what was slowing things down.

Until recently, I could boot Vista in 28 seconds. Now it is taking me about 85 seconds to boot.

Shutdown was taking longer as well.

Vista tracks your systems performance and will generate errors and warnings when something is not performing as it should. To see what your status is, go to:

Start->Control Panel->System and Maintenance->Performance Information and Tools->Advanced tools->View performance details in Event Log

Sure enough, I had critical and warning performance events in my boot up...

image

I did a search on "Event 100" and found this post that suggested it could be an external USB hard drive issue.

I unplugged my external hard drive and rebooted.

My boot time dropped back to 28 seconds!

In searching the net for this issue, I noticed many references to Western Digital My Book's, which is exactly what I have. I wondered if this was an external USB hard drive issue or a *Western Digital* external USB hard drive issue.

So I plugged in my older/smaller capacity Maxtor external USB hard drive and rebooted.

My boot time stayed at 28 seconds. I checked the event log and I was no longer getting critical or warning performance events at boot up.

It looks like this is a Western Digital external USB hard drive issue.

I ordered a new 750 GB Maxtor external USB hard drive today to replace the Western Digital.

My advice to you: stay away from the Western Digital external USB hard drives!

 

February 7, 2008

Inbox Zero

Filed under Computers, Reviews, Software, Work

image

Merlin Mann stopped by today to give us his "Inbox Zero" talk about controlling high volumes of email.

I picked up some useful tips:

  • Don't use your inbox as a "to do" list...it is only for unread mail.
  • Your inbox should be empty most of the time. Leaving email in your inbox slows down your ability to process new email and forces you to revisit old email over and over.
  • When you have email in your inbox, you should go through it quickly and do one of the following:
    • Delete it
    • Delegate it - forward to someone that can handle the email, then remove/archive the email
    • Respond, then remove/archive the email
    • Defer (move it to a folder for things you don't have time to figure out an action for just yet, but will later)
    • Do what the email asks now, then remove/archive the email
  • Turn off email notifications...they just stop you from being productive by interrupting your current work.
  • Check your email less frequently: You will process 20 new emails at once more quickly than 1 new email 20 different times.

I am doing this both for my work and home email. I moved all my email out of my inbox into a "To Do Email" folder (a "defer" folder). I have empty inboxes now!

Merlin is a great, entertaining speaker. I highly recommend this program. It should be required viewing...you will spend less time in email and more time doing what you want after you watch this.

This 1 hour video is the same talk we got today, but this was recorded from Merlin's visit to Google:

January 9, 2008

My Next Laptop

Filed under Computers, Gadgets

I bought my first laptop (a Dell Inspiron 8000) back in 2001. I'm ready for a new one and I think I found it.

It is the Lenovo IdeaPad U110. Lenovo is the same company that makes IBM ThinkPads. It was introduced at CES this week and should be available in April.

What I like about it:

  • Light: Less than 3 pounds. My old laptop weighed more than 9 pounds.
  • Small: Less than an inch thick...should be able to fit it in my backpack.
  • Sturdy: No moving parts when combined with a SSD.
  • Nice keyboard for its small size.
  • Runs Vista Ultimate
  • Has a dual core processor
  • Built-in web cam that does face recognition (instead of typing passwords)
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • Looks cool with the red cover
  • Less than $2,000

My new phone can act as a 3G high speed modem (5-10 Mbit/s) via bluetooth. I should be able to hop on the Internet anywhere my cell phone works with faster Internet access than I have at home...without connecting the laptop to anything!

I figure I will mostly use this for web surfing, email, blogging, and programming.

Here is a video review of the IdeaPad U110.

January 8, 2008

Windows PowerShell 2.0

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

Graphical PowerShell Script Output

Linux/Unix (and Mac since OS X) have always had much better shells than Windows. But that is about to change.

Windows PowerShell 2.0 looks very impressive. It should make the Linux/Mac/Unix world scramble to come up with something that matches the features of PowerShell 2.0.

The feature I'm most excited about is called the "Graphical PowerShell." It is pictured above and replaces the pathetic "Command Prompt"...

image

You can see from the top picture that the Graphical PowerShell is broken into three parts.

  1. The top part is used to store scripts. It has syntax highlighting and debugging (set breakpoints).
  2. The middle section is output from the above scripts or from the interactive console.
  3. The bottom section is what most shells look like. This is where you can interactively type in commands.

One of the things that drove me *nuts* about Windows' Command Prompt was that you could not select a multi-line command. Selection worked in screen space, which is terrible!

For example, below I wrote a command that I want to copy. Because selection is in screen space, the best I can select is 'more *.cpp | find' instead of the whole command 'more *.cpp | find "include"'.

image

Graphical PowerShell doesn't have this problem. You can select by line now (finally!)...

image

You can also resize the window which doesn't work very well with Command Prompt.

The PowerShell command language itself is well thought out and very consistent. All commands are made up of verb-noun pairs like Set-Location, Copy-Item, Write-Output, etc. (with aliases that work as shortcuts). It looks to be very competitive with all the other shells out there in terms of shell features.

Passing data between commands in Unix/Mac/Linux involves sending text from one to command to another (like "more junk.txt | grep lenihan"). PowerShell passes *objects* between commands.

This article shows a quick example of the power of passing objects instead of just text. A list of directories is passed to a move command. If this were done with text, the text would need to be formatted in such a way that the move command would recognized the text as file names (like removing the date information). PowerShell already knows what type an object is so you can skip any of this formatting! Very nice!

PowerShell 1.0 is out now. It still uses the old Command Prompt for input/output. The Graphical PowerShell (replacement for Command Prompt) is part of PowerShell 2.0, which is available in alpha right now.

I can't wait for PowerShell to replace the Command Prompt in Windows!

November 20, 2007

Crayon Physics

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I love natural user interfaces like this...very cool.


October 19, 2007

User Interfaces (UI)

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I love studying well done/efficient UI's. Here are some great articles on UI I recently read:

September 19, 2007

Vista Gem #5

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

image

Just learned about this one today.

Windows Vista supports both hard links and symbolic links. The command line option to do this is called "mklink." It doesn't appear that the GUI (explorer) supports creating symbolic/hard links. Once they are created, the GUI can modify and delete the symbolic/hard links.

A symbolic/hard link is similar to a Windows shortcut, but more powerful. A symbolic/hard link acts just like the file/directory it points to. If you are writing an application that will open a file, you don't a have to do anything special to read a symbolic/hard link...just read the file normally. A shortcut is just a text file with information about the file/directory it points to. In Windows, shortcuts work effectively as symbolic links. From the command line, they don't.

For example, you have a text file named "happy.txt" with a shortcut called "happy.txt - Shortcut.lnk" If you double-click on the shortcut, Windows will open happy.txt as you would expect. From the command line, type "more happy.txt - Shortcut.lnk" and you will see the contents of the shortcut and not the contents of original file happy.txt. If you tried the same thing with a hard/symbolic link, you would get the contents of happy.txt in each case.

Probably not that interesting to Windows users, but *very* interesting to people bringing software over from the UNIX world where symbolic/hard links are commonly used. Now that it is a standard part of the console on Windows, I would expect more people (especially software developers) to start using it.

This article has a couple of nice pictures that describes the difference between hard links and symbolic links. Basically, a hard link points directly at the data and a symbolic link points at the filename that points at the data. It's a subtle difference. This website does a nice job of comparing the two types of links. A symbolic link can exist when the data has been removed, a hard link can't. You can use a symbolic link on your hard drive to point to a file on your USB flash drive. If you remove the USB flash drive, the symbolic link will point to nothing until you return the USB flash drive. You can't make a hard link from your hard drive to a USB flash drive.

Windows has actually had hard link support since Windows 2000, but it was only available through an API call (CreateHardLink), had no command line option, and it only worked on NTFS. Back in 2000, most systems used FAT, so hard links were of little value.

September 9, 2007

Notepad Replacement

Filed under Computers, Programming, Reviews, Software

I spend much of my time editing text in Visual Studio. I love their text editor...but Visual Studio is too big to load just to edit an occasional text file. For that, I use Notepad or Wordpad.

I ran into an issue where I needed to look at a specific line number in a text file. Visual Studio lets you jump to a line number, but Notepad/Wordpad don't.

I could load Visual Studio and then jump to the line number...but I decided to look for a Notepad replacement...and I found a great one!

image

It's called Notepad++. It is *exactly* what I was looking for...a free editor that gives you all the functionality of Visual Studio in a text editor that loads very quickly.

Things that I like about Notepad++:

  • Line numbers/go to line number
  • Free
  • Quick to load
  • Bookmarks
  • Ctrl-F3 Search (searches for the word under the cursor without opening a dialog box)
  • Uses the same keyboard shortcuts that Visual Studio uses
  • Regular Expression Searches
  • Tabbed Document Interface
  • Syntax highlighting for C++, HTML, XML, Python, Lua, JavaScript, C# (and many others)
  • Support for Windows, UNIX, and Mac line ending
  • Macro recording/playback
  • Plug-in Support
  • Spell Check
  • Alt-Left Mouse Button select (great for selecting a single column of text)

You can download Notepad++ (npp) here. I used npp.4.2.2.Installer.exe.

Highly recommended!

July 14, 2007

Buying Music

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Web

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I'm changing the way I buy music...I'm abandoning downloading music (which I've been doing for about 6 years) and going back to buying CD's. It seems a bit backwards, but it has a lot of advantages.

I have a requirement that my music is in MP3 format...I have several devices I use (computers, iPod, car system, Xbox 360, phone) and MP3 is the only format that works in all places.

Most importantly, look at the work involved in getting music into your library.

For downloaded music...

  1. Burn downloaded track onto a CD
  2. Rip track from CD back onto computer so it is in MP3 form
  3. Update artist, song, album, genre tag information
  4. Rename the MP3 using ARTIST-SONG.mp3 format
  5. Create artist and album folders and move MP3 into correct location
  6. Add album art

For CD's...

  1. Rip track from CD

The number of steps involved with downloaded music has kept me from buying music.

Today I wanted to buy a few songs and I tried to find a place that would download MP3's, with album art, correct file names, and tag information...but I couldn't find any.

So I decided to go to amazon.com and buy CD's.

There are other advantages to using CD's over buying downloadable music...

  1. CD is used as your backup in case you have data loss
  2. CD quality is better than what you get from downloaded music
  3. The selection of music on CD *far* exceeds what you can download

Now for the disadvantages...

  1. Cost...you can't easily buy a single song on CD...you usually must buy an album. The songs I want will probably cost more than a $1/song.
  2. Instant gratification...I can't have the music I want now, I will have to wait until next week when it is delivered

I think switching back to CD's is the right answer...I'd be interested in hearing of better ways of dealing with this. Post away in the comments section if you have any ideas.

July 7, 2007

Sleep

Filed under Computers, Software

image

We can't have our computers wasting power 24/7...so we should let them sleep when not in use. But sometimes we'd like them to backup our data when we are not using them. What is a green-consumer to do?

Follow these instructions and your computer can sleep whenever you aren't using it *and* will wake-up to do a backup. This is for Windows Vista only.

 

July 4, 2007

Microsoft Research: Shift

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

This is cool. Shift lets you use your finger on a touch screen with pinpoint accuracy. Using Shift, selecting an individual pixel is easy.

June 21, 2007

Seadragon and Photosynth

Filed under Computers, Software

Thanks to my main man E-Dog for keeping me edumacated. This is a very inspiring video...it gives you some ideas about the new directions computers are headed. I love this kind of stuff!

I had some issues with the video playing from its source site, so I switched to the youtube version.

June 16, 2007

Vista Gem #4

Filed under Computers, Software

I was having some problems with Adobe Premiere Pro 2.0 locking up under Windows Vista. I tried reinstalling, but it didn't help. I tried various compatibility modes and that didn't help. After running out of options, I decided to just start over and do a clean install of Vista and then install Premiere Pro.

Unfortunately, that didn't help either. Further investigation revealed that Adobe knows that Premiere Pro 2.0 does not work with Vista and has no plans to fix it. The follow on to 2.0, CS3, will work on Vista. I guess I have to upgrade to CS3. :(

BUT...along the way I noticed something different about installing Windows on top of Windows. Previous to Vista, if you did a clean install on a system that already has Windows installed, you had to pick a different folder name for the OS because "C:\Windows" is already used by your previous install.

Then when you pick your user name, Windows can't create a folder (user profile) with the same name as the user because the old one already exists. So instead of using "C:\Documents and Settings\Dave", behind the scenes, Windows would create "C:\Documents and Settings\Dave.COMPUTERNAME." I *hated* my stuff stored in "Dave.COMPUTERNAME" as opposed to just "Dave."

Vista works differently. When I did my clean install, my Windows directory was moved to Windows.old, so the new install went in "C:\Windows." The user profiles were also moved under Windows.old, so my new user profile is the same as the old one..."Dave." Nice! I like this much better!

Another change related to user profiles is the path. Instead of "C:\Documents and Settings\Dave", Vista uses "C:\Users\Dave". That is much better because...

  • More concise
  • Less letters to type
  • No spaces...so no need to use quotes around a path name if you are accessing files without spaces in them (mainly a command line issue)
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May 30, 2007

Microsoft Surface

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software

This is amazing (thanks for the heads-up TreyS). Surface is a new "table computer" that uses touch instead of a keyboard or mouse. You really need to see it in action to appreciate it. The Surface homepage has several videos that are all worth checking out.

The part I'm most interested in is the idea of a computer that multiple people can work on at the same time. I can see where a family could sit around their Surface table and plan a trip...one person could map out the activities for the trip while another books the flight at the same time. Or you could play Monopoly or any other board game, where the board is virtual, but the pieces are real. Or work on a photo album together.

Today, computers tend to isolate us from other people (not counting virtual people). I see this as a platform that will bring people together to collaborate.

It will be interesting to see the new applications created for this platform. Will this be a success or a failure? I hope it is the former! I'll be following this closely. Microsoft is going to demo this at SIGGRAPH, so I'll check it out then.

 

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May 17, 2007

Get Visual Studio 2005 Free

Filed under Computers, Programming, Software

I saw this today and thought I'd pass it on. Microsoft is doing a special where they are giving away Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition for free (normally $299). The catch? You have to watch a couple of Visual Basic videos. Click here to learn more about it.

My brother did a similar setup to get Microsoft Office 2007 for free, so I know this works and is not a trick.

Visual Studio 2005 Standard Edition comes with C++, C#, Visual Basic, and J#. Here is how the Standard Edition differs from other versions of Visual Studio.

I use Visual Studio 2005 at work and at home...highly recommended!

They are only giving away a limited number of the free Visual Studio 2005, so get it while you can.

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May 13, 2007

Vista Gem #3

Filed under Computers, Software

First, some background.

I wanted a graphics card that would let me play around with DirectX 10 programming *and* be quiet (i.e. no fans). I picked up a Gigabyte GV-NX86T256D from Newegg.com for $150, which comes with the new Nvidia 8600 chip.

I downloaded Nvidia's SDK 10, which features demos and sample code for DirectX 10. While playing with one of the demos, the graphics driver crashed.

In Windows XP, a graphics driver crash would show a blue screen and you have to reboot and lose all your work you had loaded.

Vista works differently. When a graphics driver crashes, you get a pop-up message that says "Display driver stopped responding and has recovered." Then you continue as if nothing happened. No reboot!

In the case of the above screen shot, the application that caused the graphic driver to die ("Smoke") no longer works. I'm wondering if you could write your graphics application in such a way that it could survive a driver crash. It seems like you should be able to, but I haven't seen it in practice yet. If you could, then people wouldn't lose their work because of buggy graphics drivers.

Bugs in graphics drivers are the main reason Windows XP would blue screen. With Vista, graphics drivers won't be able to do that anymore.

For more details on the new Vista graphics driver model WDDM (Windows Display Driver Model), see this article

 

April 15, 2007

New PC!

Filed under Computers, Reviews

I was holding off buying a PC until I could get one with Vista. About the time Vista was released, I got a new job and had to move. So my new PC had to wait.

Once I started getting paychecks again...I put in my order to Dell for a new PC.

I really like the way the Dell XPS 710's look. We had several at my last job, and I was close to getting one...but space is a premium for me now. The 710 is big and heavy. You can fill it with a bunch of hard drives...but I only need one hard drive.

I decided to go with a Dell Dimension E520.

Here are the vitals:

  • Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit (including original install DVD)
  • Intel Core 2 Duo E6400 (2.13 GHz, 1066 FSB, 2MB cache)
  • 2 GB DDR2 SDRAM at 667 MHz
  • 24 inch Dell 2407FPW UltraSharp LCD
  • Intel Integrated Graphics (Temporary solution...waiting on upcoming Nvidia/ATI DirectX 10 cards that should be out this month)
  • 250 GB SATA II Hard Drive (7200 RPM)
  • 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
  • Integrated Audio
  • Dell speakers that fit under the flat panel monitor
  • 13 in 1 Media Card Reader
  • 1 Year Support

The total came to $1,554.76 using my LucasFilm employee discount. The LucasFilm discount saved me about $250. That figure does not include tax, which was an additional $131.73. Shipping was free.

This is my first PC without a floppy drive. I haven't used a floppy in years.

I've used my 21 inch Compaq monitor since I left my job at Compaq in 1997. Back then, I bought it with my employee discount for half price...$1,000. I got 10 years of service out of it...not bad!

The new 24" widescreen LCD looks great. I am hooked on widescreen aspect ratio for computers. This is the same monitor I use at work. 

The system is fast and very quiet. I had to turn off my old PC so it would not bother me while watching movies...not so with this one.

The Intel integrated graphics work great for Vista's Aero UI. The original drivers drew some random black lines on the login screen. I updated the drivers and the problem went away.

The only real problem I had was when I turned on the PC, I got an error dialog requesting a Windows disk. The keyboard and mouse weren't functioning so I could not close or skip the dialog box, and inserting all the disks that came with the system did not help. I eventually booted in Safe Mode and got past the the dialog and everything worked fine after that.

I didn't care about this...I had always planned on formatting the hard drive so I could install Vista clean. I hate all the crapware that PC makers add to their OS installations. A clean install gets rid of it all.

I'm very happy with my purchase so far!

 

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April 12, 2007

Vista Gem #2

Filed under Computers, Software

I found another nice feature in Windows Vista...the Snipping Tool! The Snipping Tool is a screen capturing tool. You can find the Snipping Tool at Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Snipping Tool.

In the past, I used the "Print Screen/SysRq" key to copy the screen to the clipboard and then paste the clipboard into a paint program in order to save it as an image. Alt-Print Screen/SysRq will capture just the window with focus to the clipboard.

These keystrokes still work, but the Snipping Tool is much better and faster.

You have 4 options for screen capture:

  1. Free-Form Snip - Captures a lasso selection
  2. Full Screen - Captures the entire screen
  3. Window - Captures a Window
  4. Rectangular Snip - Captures a rectangular selection

Once you have your capture, then the Snipping Tool lets you write on your capture with a yellow highlighter or various pens.

You can save your capture as JPEG, PNG, GIF, or MHT. Interestingly, Microsoft's own BMP image format is not included.

I hadn't heard of MHT before. It is an HTML web page with the data stored *in* the file itself, instead of a pointer to the location where the data is stored. So you should be able to copy a MHT file with an embedded image to a server and open it with a web browser and everything will work...no need to copy an HTML file *and* the JPEG file it points to (which is what I do now).

 

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April 10, 2007

Vista Gem

Filed under Computers, Software

I got a new Dell PC with Windows Vista last week. While checking Vista out, I found a feature I haven't heard about before that is pretty slick if you are a GUI fan (and honestly, who isn't?).

The feature is called "Use check boxes to select items." It is off by default. To turn it on, go to Start -> Control Panel -> Appearance and Personalization -> Folder Options -> View and check "Use check boxes to select items."

What this option does is allow you to select multiple items with the mouse, but without using the Ctrl key.

You can see in the explorer window above that I selected three files by clicking the check boxes in the upper-left corner of each icon.

The check boxes are only visible if....

  1. A file is selected (check box is checked)
  2. The mouse is on top of an unselected file (check box is clear)

For non-icon explorer views (like details view), the check box appears at the start (far left) of the row.

You'll also notice a check box in the upper-left by the "Name" column. This is a toggle between select all and select none.

This is certainly subtle, but it is interesting for a couple of reasons.

  • Discoverability. A simple change to the UI has made it so new users can select multiple files without learning about Ctrl-click multiple select or Ctrl-A for select all. It is highly unlikely that a new user would Ctrl-click or use Ctrl-A without somebody explaining it to them. With the check box method, new users will probably figure it out on their own.
  • There is no need to use the keyboard to select multiple files.

I turned it on yesterday and I don't see any reason why I would turn it off.

 

April 7, 2007

Windows Live Writer (Beta)

Filed under Blogging, Computers, Reviews, Software, Web

I had a bad experience with Word 2007 as a blog editor.

During the process of setting up Word to talk to Movable Type, I learned that I needed to configure Movable Type to allow publishing via external programs.

Ever since I upgraded my version of Movable Type from 3.2 to 3.34, I lost my ability to use Windows Live Writer (WLW). I went back to the old, web-based basic HTML editor for posting. It was painful, but it worked.

I decided to try WLW again to see if it would start working after my modified Movable Type to support external publishing programs...and it did!

So I'm back to using WLW again and it makes me happy!

I noticed that they have added several plug-ins since I last used WLW, which may be worth trying out.

What I like about WLW:

  • Support for tagging
  • Support for categories
  • Resize images to fit a particular blog width
  • Link to original, full size photo
  • Automagically uploads, resizes pictures
  • Spell checker
  • Very fast/light application
  • Free!
  • WYSIWYG...uses the stylesheet from your blog you know what you post will look like before you publish it.

I did notice that if I try to link to a really big photo (like a 1920x1200 desktop), WLW will fail to post to the server with a error message. Shrinking the image size fixed the problem. This is beta software...hopefully this problem will be fixed!

December 29, 2006

Nvidia 8800 Demo Reel

Filed under Computers

Nvidia recently released the first DirectX 10 graphics card, the GeForce 8800. Here is a demo reel Nvidia put together to show off what their new card can do.

The video above is very low resolution so it will load and play quickly. To see the demos in HD (720p), download this 122 MB version of the video. Be warned: the video requires quite a bit of processing power to run smoothly (it doesn't run smoothly on my 2.4 GHz PC).

November 10, 2006

Windows Vista: Kills Viruses Dead.

Filed under Computers, Software

According to this article, Microsoft co-president Jim Allchin told a reporter that Vista's...

"new lockdown features are so capable and thorough that he was comfortable with his own seven-year-old son using Vista without antivirus software installed."

That is a pretty bold statement! At first I thought it was crazy, but now that I know about the "lockdown features," I'm very impressed with how Vista deals with viruses.

When you hear about security issues, more often than not the issue is related to a buffer overflow exploit. Basically, this means that software was designed to handle a maximum number of characters, but the exploit sends more than the expected. Once the character buffer is filled, the extra characters start to overwrite areas of memory that were not meant to change. The trick to this exploit is to tell the running program to start executing the data in the newly compromised areas of memory. This is how a malicious web page can take control of your system.

This article explains how to use the exploit. I would recommend that anybody doing software development read this to better understand the problem. I find that most people really don't understand how this works, and just continue making software that can be exploited. This problem is *everywhere*...hence the reason we have security updates on such a regular basis.

Vista has a new feature that could very well eliminate buffer overflow attacks. Using a technique called "Address Space Layout Randomization" (ASLR), Vista shuffles how software is loaded in memory. The Buffer Overflow exploit depends on specific software loaded at a specific location, so that it can jump to an area of memory that gives it the ability run other programs or commands. With ASLR, it is highly unlikely that an exploit will be able to find these locations.

I think this is an amazingly clever solution to a *really* bad problem. I don't have any real world data on how effective it is, but the theory is sound. If ALSR works as advertised, it won't eliminate all security issues, but it will significantly reduce the number we deal with today.

I still believe *ALL* computers should run anti-virus software, even if they have ASLR. How else will you know if your system is under attack unless it is checked against a continuously updated list.

I am planning on moving to Vista as soon as it is released (Jan 30th). There is a lot to like in this new release. Vista's ASLR alone may be worth the price of admission.

An interesting side note: Microsoft is constantly bashed for the security of their operating systems. As of this writing, Apple Macintosh and mainstream Linux distributions do not include ASLR. This means that Vista is more secure against buffer overflow exploits than OS X or Linux.

July 9, 2006

Anyone want a *free* printer or scanner?

Filed under Computers

I got a new all-in-one printer/scanner/fax/copier yesterday, an HP Photosmart 3310 All-in-One. So now I don't need my old printer and scanner. They both work fine, but I wanted something more integrated and with support for faxing.

The printer is an HP Deskjet 990cse.

  • Color ink jet
  • Can print on both sides of a page
  • Comes with unopened color ink cartridge.
  • Includes USB cable

The scanner is an HP Scanjet 5470c.

  • Flatbed scanner
  • Comes with software to make it like a copier when used with a printer
  • Includes USB cable

If you are interested in either or both...send me an email or post a comment. If nobody wants them, I'm going to drop them off at Goodwill.

June 28, 2006

The Microsoft PC

Filed under Computers, Gadgets, Software, Xbox 360

Here is an article about the new Microsoft 22 inch wide-screen LCD. This monitor should be release to go with Windows Vista (probably early next year) and is designed to support some of the new functionality in the OS.

There are two big features I've heard of in Vista that this monitor will probably support:

  • High DPI Support - Should give you a better looking display using more densely packed pixels.
  • Support for HDCP - HD Movies from HD-DVD may require monitors with HDCP in order to play at their highest resolution. Vista is probably going to be the first OS to support playback of HD DVD's that require HDCP.

I knew I'd need to upgrade my monitor to get the best Vista experience. If the monitor is any good, I'll probably get it when it comes out.

There has been a clear line between Microsoft and PC companies like Dell and HP: Microsoft does the software (Windows, Office, etc.) and Dell/HP make the hardware. But with this announcement, Microsoft makes all the hardware components necessary for a full computer: monitor, mouse, keyboard and CPU (Xbox 360). Watch for this, the Xbox 360 could be a very interesting competitor to the PC if Microsoft wants a bigger chunk of the pie. All they need to do is port Office and Internet Explorer to Xbox 360 and you have a very slick PC. And since it is not open like a PC (you can't get Xbox 360 software from just anybody...only from Microsoft), it doesn't have the security problems that you find in Windows, Mac, and Linux (no need to run a virus checker on Xbox 360).

June 25, 2006

Why Macs and Linux Suck (Part 1)

Filed under Beefs, Computers, Programming

I spent the last 3 years doing most of my development work on a Linux box. It is not my choice: our software only runs on Linux, so I have to play along. I am a Windows guy, and working with Linux has made me appreciate how great Windows is.

I *love* using Microsoft's Visual Studio for writing software. When I began developing software in Linux, I tried to find something close to Visual Studio. I started using KDevelop. While it doesn't compare to Visual Studio, I have found it is the closet thing on Linux. It is an Integrated Development Environment (IDE): editor, compiler, linker, and debugger all in one application.

KDevelop is a front end to other tools...GCC for compiling and linking and GDB for debugging.

When you are developing software, sometimes it doesn't work as intended. To track down the problem, there are two schools of thought:

  1. Use a debugger
  2. Insert messages in your software that help you get an idea of what is going on (aka "printf debugging")
I've always thought that *real* men use a debugger...if you can't figure out a debugger, you use printf debugging. A debugger is faster than printf debugging if for no other reason, it does not require you to change your software and rebuild it to add a printf message. There are plenty more reasons a debugger is faster, but let's just leave it at this: you will be a more efficient software developer if you know how to use a debugger correctly.

Using KDevelop put me in the former category. I could click on a line and set a breakpoint, run my application, and have it stop at the breakpoint so I could analyze what was going on. This worked well for me until I spent several days trying to track down an issue. I set a breakpoint in my software where I thought the issue was, but that breakpoint was never hit. So I assumed that piece of software was never called, so I looked for the issue else where. After studying the software for several hours, I found that it was impossible for that breakpoint to not get hit. I dropped back to the old school printf debugging technique and guess what...the suspect code was executing, but the debugger was not honoring the breakpoint!

I did some research to find out how it is possible that my breakpoint would not stop my software from running. I thought it might be how the software was built, but nothing I did would make the debugger stop at that breakpoint.

I then found out that I'm not the only one that has run into this issue...it is a BUG in the DEBUGGER!!! How unsettling is that! The tool that is supposed to help you find bugs is actually hiding them from you! Here is the problem report, #1091. This bug was submitted in February of 2003 and it is still not fixed! I thought the open source community was supposed to fix things quicker than commercial software! This is a serious issue and I am shocked more people aren't outraged about it.

So just get another debugger, right? Wrong! GDB is used as the debugger for almost everything! It is used by KDevelop, Eclipse, and (here's the tie-in to Macs) Apple's Xcode. GDB is *not* the debugger for Visual Studio...thank goodness!

I found that all the Linux gurus in my group used printf debugging. Now I know why!

With bug #1091, GDB is terrible for software development. You must use GDB for Linux/Mac software development. Then by the transitive property, Linux/Mac are terrible for software development. If only Visual Studio would work on Linux/Mac!

May 26, 2006

SIGGRAPH 2006

Filed under 3D, Animation, Computers, Maya

I registered for SIGGRAPH 2006 today. This will be the 10th consecutive SIGGRAPH I've attended. This year it will be in Boston in late July/early August. I plan on spending a few days checking out Boston before the big show starts (I've never been to Boston before).

Now that I have this blog thing down, I plan on doing SIGGRAPH trip reports directly on this site. Should be fun! If anybody else is going...let me know and we'll hook up at the show.

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About Computers

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to David's Blog in the Computers category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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