Friday, December 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Joel!

Joel turns four today! Happy birthday to you! As promised, we held your little birthday bash in the new house with the rest of the family. Hope you had a smashing good time!
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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Home delivery... The big move... And hello new home!

We finally decided to put aside the problems with the third storey and move into our new house anyway; its just too inconvenient for a family of five to cram into a one bedroom apartment. Moreover, we couldn't push back the delivery of the stuff we ordered for the new place much longer. And lastly, we promised little Joel that he will be spending his fourth birthday (which is tomorrow!) in the new house and we didn't want to disappoint him.

We managed to cram the delivery of our new sofa, dining, bed, washer, fridge and TV all within the last few days in preparation for our move today. Other than the magazine storage of the sofa set and fridge, all other items were delivered in good condition. Thank goodness for that.

So early this morning, we deposited the kids at my parents and started packing up for the move. Yeah, we should have done the packing way in advance but there just isn't enough room in the studio apartment to fit three hyper-active kids and all the packed boxes.

We didn't engage any professional help for the move as we are not bringing any furniture or bulky items over. We also did not need to rope in any friends to help as we have been moving stuff to the new house during the last few visits. I've also finally managed to exercise the value of my SUV purchase earlier this year and boy am I pleasantly surprised at the amount of stuff that the CX-7 can hold; It took us only four trips to move nearly all our essentials. And this is including a ladder, bamboo sticks and a five-tier toyoga storage drawers!

We took the whole morning to pack followed by the whole afternoon to unpack. And boy what tough work it was moving stuff up and down six flights of stairs! I can already imagine my thighs and bum getting their much needed workout in the coming days... Its also at this time did I realize just how much stuff we (or should I say my kids) have. I am definitely not looking forward to doing this again anytime soon!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Setting up backup on the DNS-323

Here's a quick and dirty way of doing backups from Volume_1 (aka HD_a2) to Volume_2 (aka HD_b2) on a nightly basis. In summary, here is what you need to do:
  1. Install and configure fonz's fun_plug. (look here for details)
  2. Grab and install the rysnc addon package for fonz's fun_plug.
  3. Define a rsync job to run on a nightly basis at 2:05am. The crontab line will look like this: 5 2 * * * /mnt/HD_a2/fun_plug.d/bin/rsync -rlptDv --delete /mnt/HD_a2 /mnt/HD_b2 >/mnt/HD_a2/fun_plug.d/log/rsync.last.log 2>&1
  4. Create a script in the start folder (i.e. /mnt/HD_a2/fun_plug.d/start) to add the above into the crontab every time you boot the box. (Remember to set execute permission for the script to auto run on the next boot.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Cracks in the walls + 6 days of endless rain + useless MA = big nightmare

What a week... Rain poured continuously for the past 6 days with just the occasional clear sky in between. And what timing too... It has to be right at the end of my renovation works at my new place to reveal the multiple points of water seepage problems in the house. And there goes my freshly painted walls and nicely varnished flooring...

Filed a repair form at the management office only to be told that "external walls are out of warranty" and I'm to find my own solution to the problem... WTF?! Even if its "out of warranty", its part of their scope of work to repair since external walls are considered part of the common property. "No sir" he says "not in this estate". WTF?!x2

Not believing that this should be the case, I subsequently called up the developer, main contractor, and even the BCA. After explaining my situation, all provided me with lots of information (some valid, some relevant but none of which will solve my problem).

In the meantime, I also inquired with a few waterproofing specialist on the cost of repairs and was dismayed to find that its not only expensive ($6k for 3 cracks?!), these so-called specialist won't guarantee that they can fix the problem for good. Experts my foot.

Finally, out of desperation, I decided to call the head office of the MA to give the manager a piece of my mind regarding the crap her guy is dishing me. She offered to take up my case and seek MC's approval to engage someone to repair the cracks. Now we are talking...

The bad news is, the MC don't meet till Jan 08 (and they probably will deliberate over a few weeks before arriving at any conclusion, which may not even be in my favor) and with the weather like this for the next couple of months (monsoon season you see), I think I'm better off paying for the repairs now then to pay for the interior damages later. So either way, I'm screwed. Welcome to the shitty world of strata title living.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Look ma! Its snowing... not!

Joel had his first experience with "snow" today. Well, no, unfortunately its not the real deal in some fancy temperate country (We'll get to that when little Jarett is old enough to travel) but in a large freezer-like contraption inappropriately called Snow City somewhere in the western part of Singapore. Why inappropriate? Because from what Mommy who accompanied him on the field trip says "Everything is frozen solid and there is more ICE than anything that resembles snow".

Thanks Snow City, now I'm going to have a hard time trying to convince Joel that our fridge has an ice compartment rather than a "snow" compartment in there...
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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Doremon vs Ultraman!

The kids in their new PJs... Looks like Doremon currently has the throne but will Ultraman settle for the no. 2 spot? Only time will tell... But for now... Stop fooling around and get back to bed!!! GRRrrr!
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Thursday, December 6, 2007

Seamless sign on to internal web applications using your Windows credentials

I was recently tasked to architect and lead the Single Sign On (SSO) implementation within the Pan Asia region. This is part of the global identity management initiative whose vision is enable any employee in any part of the world to access any authorized internal application, be it web or desktop, using a single username and password.

Given that:
  1. the scope is for internal systems only,
  2. all workstations are part of an Active Directory domain,
  3. Windows authentication (aka NTLM/Kerberos) is the standard authentication protocol for non-web related access (shared folders, printers, Microsoft Exchange, etc) in our environment,
  4. Internet Explorer is the standard browser application used in our environment.
Its a no-brainer that the cheapest and quickest way to achieve SSO is by enabling Windows authentication on the web application end.

Besides cost savings, the other major benefit to this approach is that users only have to sign on to their workstations once (i.e. the normal Windows login process) and enjoy seamless access to any (internal) web applications just like how you access Microsoft Outlook or shared folders today.

Getting this up and running in ASP/IIS based web applications is a piece of cake. See recipe. (No pun intended.) The key steps are:
  1. Disable Anonymous Access and enable "Integrated Windows authentication" in IIS for the ASP/ASPX application in question.
  2. Do the same in the web config file if this is an ASP.NET application.
  3. In your code, grab the id of the user using the code Request.ServerVariables["LOGON_USER"].
On the Java front, there are two choices mainly:
  1. via a servlet filter like JCIFS NTLM HTTP Authentication module, or
  2. via Andy Armstrong's JAAS login module

One gotcha to take note of. The above works when your application, hosted in the internal network is accessed from the web browser:

  1. via an internal IP.
  2. via the hostname of the IIS server.
  3. via a fully qualified domain name (FQDN) that is a sub-domain under your Windows domain. i.e. your Windows domain is and your application domain name is
If, however, your application is accessed via a FQDN other than the above, you will find that user is prompted for his credentials in a popup dialog much like what you get in Basic Authentication. Details on this issue (and workarounds) can be found in this KB article (ID 303650).

In summary, its due to Internet Explorer mistakenly identified your site as an Internet site and the default browser settings prevents it from sending your Windows credentials for security reasons. To overcome this, you have to add the FQDN to the "Trusted sites" or "Local Intranet" lists.

To make life easier for your users, and since they are all on the domain, you can get your system administrators to push this configuration change to their PCs transparently via group policies or logon scripts.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

No unicode support in DNS-323 firmware 1.03! *GASP*HORROR*

Up until a few days ago, I've only been toying around with the box by installing fonz's fun_plug and experimenting with the various mods and configurations. Thinking that I've got the hang of it, I decided that its time to move my data in and set it up for "production" use.

Having full confidence in the box, I simply drag and drop the files into the share folders and went about my merry way. Half a day later (yes, it took that long to transfer some 130GB of data over a 100Mbps network), the transfer was completed and I was about to delete the files in the source folders when it struck me to check on the results of the copy.

To my horror, files and folders with chinese characters did not make it across successfully and I ended up with corrupted names instead. What's even worse is that these files cannot be deleted via the Windows GUI or even by telnet!

Did a quick check on google and found out that the current firmware (1.03) does not support unicode! WTF?! Searching the D-link SG support website revealed a beta firmware (1.04b63) that claims to provide support for the thai language. Figuring that since both Thai and Chinese are both East Asian languages, chances of this beta firmware working for me should be rather high.

So I took the plunge, downloaded the firmware, flashed it on my box, reformatted the drives and started the file copy again (while holding my breath and keeping my fingers crossed!). Luckily, things worked out as planned and I am now a happy bunny again :)

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The ultimate biometric door lock - Gateman MB740

I have been in the market shopping for a biometric door lock for some time now and have finally decided on the Gateman MB740. A few things I like about it:
  1. Swipe based fingerprint sensor - according to literature, this form of sensor is more secure than traditional static sensing.

  2. No key override - those with a key override (i.e. the biometric lock still has a keyhole which accepts a traditional key) basically expose themselves to one more security risk via the keyhole (e.g. losing the key, key bumping, etc).

  3. Break-in alarm - the lock has a shock sensor and a 80dB alarm (that is loud!) which detects any attempt to damage or force open the door.

  4. Fire alarm - if the lock detects temperature of over 60 degrees Celsius on the inside of the house, it will sound the alarm and release the door lock automatically.(Excellent safety measure!)

  5. Forced lock mode - you can set the lock to ignore attempts to unlock from the inside or outside for added security. (forced locked on outside when you are asleep inside the house, and forced lock on inside when you are away from the house for a long period of time. forced lock on inside even sounds the alarm for good measure!)

  6. Automatic lock mode - automatically locks the deadbolt when the door closes. Never forget to lock the door again!

  7. Remote control - unlock/lock the door from the comfort of your armchair!

Obviously, sophisticated products like this don't come cheap, especially so when it scores pretty high on the looks department too. The retail price starts from S$1500 here in SG and this is for the model without remote option. Looks like I am going to have to dig deep into my wallet for this one...

Sunday, November 18, 2007

No Gigabit Network!! Argg....

Shucks.... My contractor just called and told me that the house does not appear to have a riser and there are too many beams and columns to run the concealed cables between levels. Its either all exposed trunking or nothing at all. Bummer. This is bad news indeed...

Saturday, November 10, 2007

DNS-323 email alert settings

The DNS-323 features an alerting feature where emails are sent from the box automatically under the following conditions:
  • regular intervals reporting disk usage
  • when a volume is full
  • a hard drive has failed
  • the admin password has changed
  • firmware has been upgraded
  • system temperature has exceeded a user-defined limit

Excellent! I did not quite expect monitoring features for such a cheap and home biased device. So I looked through the configuration and figured that its a piece of cake putting in the required fields for my email hosting provider. Note that you will not be able to use any email provider that requires

  1. logging into incoming mail server before sending mail; and/or
  2. mail servers that requires an encrypted connection (e.g. SSL, TLS), and/or
  3. mail servers that uses non-default ports.

However, upon clicking the "Test E-mail" button, all I got was a pop-up window that kept saying "Test E-Mail: Failure". After some digging around the forum, I finally found the problem: You have to set the "Sender E-mail" and "Receiver E-mail" fields to have the same value! Sigh... what's the point of having two fields if you can only input one value there?

Great feature but the implementation really need some more work Dlink...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Life after 32...

Hmm... Life has been so busy (kids, work, and especially the reno at the new house *sigh*) that my 32nd birthday just slipped by. Luckily, a couple of good friends decided to pay tribute by buying me a slice of cake at TCC Great World City... Oh, and just for the record, the cheeze cake is good! Thanks guys!

Monday, November 5, 2007

Gigabit backbone for the house!

Ok. So I've explored various options of home networking setup for my new house but they either don't meet my needs fully (WiFi, HomePlug) or are not available for purchase in retail shops (HomePNA).

Given that I have to repaint the entire house due to wear and tear (the house is seven years old) plus the color combi used by the previous owners was really aweful (more of the latter than former actually), I took the plunge to get my house wired up for Gigabit Ethernet. This is going to cost me some $2k for just 7 network points around the house. Not cheap but at least I no longer have to worry about bandwidth for the next couple of years.

For cable type, I've selected Cat 5e rather than Cat 6 due to cost reasons since there is minimal difference between the two. Initially, I had wanted to prepare for the next gen network (aka 10GBaseT which is supposed to go mainstream in the next 5 years, so I'm told) since I'm unlikely to want to relay cables anytime soon. But that requires the use of Cat 6a type which costs yet another premium.

Well, now that the backbone architecture has been decided, its time to start sourcing for a couple of Gigabit switches and NICs for my PCs!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Getting SSH working on the DNS-323

Ok, now that I've fun_plugged my DNS-323, the next step is to get some core services up and running. Telnet is already enabled by default when you do the fun_plug. The next item in the list is SSH.

There are two options here really; OpenSSH or DropBear. I'm going with DropBear since Fonz has kindly got it all packaged up as an addon for his fun_plug as compared to having to use chroot in the case of OpenSSH (no native binaries unfortunately).

So the first step is to grab the package from his site and unpack it into the / directory. Once done, go into /mnt/HD_a2/fun_plug.d/start/ as root, give it executable permissions (i.e. "chmod u+x") and run the start script.

The very first time the script is run, it will create the necessary host keys in the fun_plug's etc directory and start the daemon; Subsequent runs will just start the daemon. You can verify that the daemon has started by checking for its process (i.e. issue the command "ps -ef grep dropbear" and you should see something similar to 26654 root /mnt/HD_a2/fun_plug.d/bin/dropbear -d ...).

To check that your server is running properly, try to connect to it using a SSH client like Putty. Remember to change the connection type to SSH and verify that the port is 22. You should be able to login using your username and password and get to a BusyBox prompt just like a typical Telnet session would.

Note that Putty may throw a security alert about some unknown host key when the connection is attempted (before you see the login prompt). This message can be safely ignored (just click "YES" to add to putty's registry) if and only if this is your first time connecting to the host system. Otherwise, it could mean that your host is no longer the same as originally connected and you ought to get that checked out.

Once you get to the above, you are pretty much set for a safer and more secured alternative to Telnet... Unless you are looking at using public-key authentication for even stronger security or for running automated jobs over SSH (such as remote backups).

Public-key authentication in SSH works like this: If you are on a client system accessing a host system, you will need a PRIVATE key on your client system and have the corresponding PUBLIC key registered as an authorized key in the host system.

First thing you need to do in the DNS-323 is to setup the appropriate home directory with the right permissions for the user. To do so, use the fonz script using the syntax " " followed by "" to make this change permanent (i.e. survive resets).

Next, create the necessary key-pair using Putty on the client and upload to the host system using this excellent guide (comes with step-by-step screenshots!). For the lazy and people familiar with PKI, the steps are:

  1. Create the key-pair using PuttyGen (with or without passphrase)
  2. Login to host system using the desired account id
  3. Cd to home directory (i.e. "cd ~")
  4. Create the sub-directory .ssh if it does not already exist (i.e. "mkdir .ssh")
  5. Cd into this directory (i.e. "cd ./.ssh")
  6. Create the file "authorized_keys" if it does not already exist (i.e. "touch ./authorized_keys")
  7. Make sure the file has the right permissions (i.e. "chmod 600 ./authorized_keys")
  8. Open the file in your favorite editor (i.e. "vi ./authorized_keys")
  9. Add the public key to the end of the file in ONE line (the public key should look something like this ssh-rsa AAAAB3NzaC1yc2EAaaaBJQAaAIEAjL2xAU2kNrdMViUpMbYL+H5/h2KlLo7hG1RHu/mh/3qLPxSnTrprVXYMgb+T9iJ8PkkiSWtU83Av7WSHVlsGeRAMXlNtkjpEsF/SIXsplrLqDdk1Fmy8uin++rTsjcdAYlnsa5TuQbRJ4bVXBkGTOPbkHNz0bPqzy/rMBZDbsdE= user@host. Make sure there is no line break in between!)
  10. Save it and you are done! (Repeat the steps above for other users as necessary)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Who's this little kitten?

So its the end of the school year for Joel's childcare and its time for their graduation ceremony cum concert. All students from N2 upwards will be participating in various performances and Joel, being in N2, will participate in an item featuring little kittens. Oh and what cute little kittens they are!

This little song and dance number lasted less than ten minutes but they practiced hard for it throughout the year. It's the first time Joel performed in front of a live audience but he was so brave and put in an excellent performance. We are so proud of you Joel!

Saturday, October 20, 2007

A better DNS-323... with fun_plug!

Ok, so the DNS-323 is a cheap entry level file, print and upnp media server. However, with the use of fun_plug, you can easily turn it into a something more! You can use it to run subversion, bittorrent, web server with PHP support (think dynamic websites!), backup server and more!

An excellent way to get started is to download and use the fun_plug package developed by Fonz. Just by copying the archive file into the root folder of the first volume (called Volume_1 in the default network share), do a reboot and you are done!

The base package includes telnet and an updated (busybox) shell. After the reset, wait a couple of seconds and telnet into the box using the hostname and the default port 23. The default settings in Fonz's package skips the login process and automatically grant you root access. You will probably want to get that changed especially if you are in an unsecured environment. Even for home users, I strongly recommend that you set up authentication just in case.

To do this, edit the start script, comment the LOPT variable referring to "sh", and uncomment the LOPT variable using "login". Finally, reboot (or manually restart telnet).

IMPORTANT: You cannot login as root unless you have set a password! So before you do the above, use the "passwd" command to set a password for root. After that, use the script "" to write this information to flash memory so that it survives the next reboot.

If you hit any problems with Fonz's fun_plug, the first place to check is the log file fun_plug.log in the directory /mnt/HD_a2/fun_plug.d/log.

Now that you got a some-what secured telnet access, consider the following mods:

The many faces of Jarrett

Introducing Jarrett, my number 3 man in the house. Here he is showing us one of his many talents.... "making faces at daddy while he tries to take a picture of me" trick. Thank goodness for digital cameras!
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HomePlug, HomePNA or WiFi?

You know you have a problem when you find out that your new house does not come equipped with an Ethernet cabling infrastructure. And you know you have a bigger problem when your house span a few levels. *sigh*

So what are my options? Well, I can take the opportunity to wire up the house before I move in but this is a very costly option due to the amount of hacking and cable laying involved. Alternatively, I can go with something less destructive such as wireless or "no new wires" technologies.

WiFi is a wireless technology that seems attractive at first as it gives me the most flexibility in terms of equipment placement. In real life however, I will have to watch out for weak spots and dead zones created by thick walls and other obstructions. In addition, I will have to invest in additional AP/range extenders to cover all 4 floors. To make matters worse, wifi is prone to signal pollution from other 2.4GHz devices around the house (like your cordless phone, baby monitor, bluetooth devices, microwave oven, and most likely, your neighbour's AP) resulting in degraded performance and dropped connections. Obviously not practical when one of the primary usage of my home network is for video and audio streaming from my central media library (located in my level 3 study) to the various networked media players spread all around the house (furthest being the basement).

A HomePlug network falls into the "no new wires" category as it works over existing power lines. This is especially useful since multiple power sockets can be found in every room of the house. Considering that most of my networked equipment have to be plugged into a power socket, this approach is indeed convenient. Now comes the bad news. Firstly, the adaptor has to be plugged directly to a wall socket as extension cords and surge protectors will interfere with the high frequency signals used by HomePlug. Secondly, they don't come cheap at almost $120 per adapter. Lastly, and most importantly, although the latest specs HomePlug AV allows for speed up to 200 Mbps, reviews (here and here) showed that real word performance is way below that presumably because of the cabling as well as the signal quality which is seldom clean (i.e. spikes (sudden rises in energy), surges (prolonged overvoltages), and brownouts (prolonged undervoltages)) due to heavy duty home appliances such as air conditioners, fridge, vacuum cleaners, etc.

A HomePNA network is in the same class as the HomePlug network except that it works over existing phone lines rather than power lines. Luckily for me, my new place has not one but two phone jacks (independent lines) in every room, including living and basement. Although the technology itself can co-exist with voice and data (i.e. fax and even DSL) traffic, I get to setup a completely isolated network just for the LAN. With the latest standard HPNA 3.1 introducing a theoretical speed limit of 320 Mbps, this will indeed be my top choice (barring gigabit Ethernet of course). The bad news? Well, apparently, there aren't many backers of this technology and the few vendors who are (like 2Wire, Motorola, Conexant) only offer them via service providers (such as AT&T) and not in the retail market. I was hoping to find a few resale units on ebay but I was out of luck there too. Damn.

So until I find a supplier for some HomePNA adapters, I guess I will have to live with the patchy wifi. :(

Monday, October 1, 2007

Cheap DR strategy for your home data? Yes its possible!

Disaster Recovery. You have probably heard of (and dread) this term if you are an IT manager in a sizable company. With the proliferation of mission-critical enterprise IT systems and the implications of losing such systems as a result of natural or human-induced (think 9/11) disasters, DR is fast becoming, if not already, a key concern for most companies.

On the home front, as we start acquiring more digital assets (e.g. music purchased from itunes, family pictures and videos, electronic documents and books), it certainly make sense to think about DR to protect your data, especially those that are irreplaceable and have high sentimental values.

If you live in Singapore, you will probably think that DR is excessive since we are relatively safe from natural disasters and no one is likely to drop a bomb (or plane) on your house. But what about other threats like household fire and theft? Living in a densely populated city, with shrinking apartments packed tightly together in high rise blocks, coupled with increasing number of electrical appliances and electronics found in homes, fire accidents are common and can cause widespread damage.

So we have established that DR is something that both business and home owners should be concerned with. However, unlike the business, home owners typically do not have the capital (nor is it feasible) to invest in elaborate DR setups (think redundant data centers and distributed setups) or even offsite backup services like Cisco's Recall.

The good news is that with widespread availability of cheap unlimited broadband and online backup services, home users (and small offices that cannot afford the big bucks) can have the cake and eat it.

One of my favorites is MozyHome. This is a cheap, under five US dollars monthly, solution that offers unlimited storage, 30 days backup window and is really easy to setup and use. They even offer a free version that limits you to 2GB of data!

Alternatively, for the technically savy and those who are simply paranoid about storing personal data on some unknown servers and have no control over them, you can roll your own offsite backups with rsync and a little help from your family and friends. Details on how to do this can be found here. For obvious reasons, choose a friend or family member who stays as far away from you as possible!

Some closing words. Offsite backups do take a significant amount of time to recover hence it should be considered as part of a total backup strategy.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Having fun at the playground!

Took the boys out to the playground for the afternoon. Oh what fun they had!
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Friday, September 28, 2007

Running a SOHO NAS? Find out how you can retrieve your data when the NAS fails.

If you are like me, primarily a WINDOWS person and run a SOHO NAS which internally uses the linux OS, you will want to know how you can recover your precious files from the NAS when the hardware (the NAS, not the HDD mind you) gives up on you.

You basically have 3 options:

1) Have a second identical NAS device as backup. When the first one kicks the bucket, just plug the HDDs out from the first and insert them into the second and you are good to go. Fuss free but you have to be pretty darn rich to have a second NAS barebone just lying around waiting for the first to fail.

2) Maintain a linux system somewhere, maybe dual boot in your workstation to save on hardware cost. When the NAS fails, plug it into workstation and boot up in linux to access your files. This solution is good if you are comfortable with installing and working with linux. The downside is the hassle of moving files out from the ext2 filesystem to one based on FAT32 so that you can access the files again when you get back to your WINDOWS environment. Too much hassle if you ask me.

3) The "have-your-cake-and-eat-it" solution - get Ext2 Installable File System for Windows! This is a kernel level driver which allows your WINDOWS OS to both read and write to a ext2 file system. So when your NAS fails, simply plug it into your workstation and viola! Back in business!

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Joel and his *gasp* girlfriend!

My my, our little Joel has found a girlfriend! Ok, that's not true. This is Nikita, Joel's good friend and classmate in childcare and this is them having fun during the Mooncake festival celebrations.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Biometric lock for your front door?

For the geeks out there, having a biometric lock for your front door is probably high on your wish list. Besides the cool (ok, ok... geek) factor, its actually quite functional too. I can readily identify three group of consumers who will be interested.

(1) the ladies who loath searching their handbags for the keys. (how many times have your wife asked you to lock/unlock the door cuz its "easier" to get the keys from your pocket?) x2 for those who have to juggle the handbag with a bunch of shopping bags. x10 for those who have to juggle the handbag with a bunch of shopping bags AND an umbrella. x100 for those who have to juggle the handbag with a bunch of shopping bags AND an umbrella AND its raining.

(2) household with kids and/or old folks. Imagine no more worries about your kids and/or old folks forgetting to bring the house keys or worse, lose them when they are out!

(3) for those living in condos, how many times have you wished that you don't have to carry your keys with you when you go down to the pool/sauna/gym?

Hmm... since I fit into all three categories (Yikes!), I think I will probably get one for my new house... *grin*

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Japanese charcoal grill anyone?

Last night I had the opportunity to dine at a restaurant called Aburiya along Robertson Quay courtesy of our vendor IBM. It was my first time trying out Yakiniku and I must say its quite an experience.

The setting of this restaurant is nice and cosy and the service is prompt and polite. The novelty is in the grill, which is fired by charcoal instead of the hotplate that you see so often in other restaurants. The only complaint is the bench and tight leg room which gets rather uncomfortable after prolonged sitting. Given the slow pace of the meal as you slowly grill your food to perfection (unless you like your food raw!), you will likely find yourself squirming in your seat towards the end of the meal.

Moving onto the food, the Horenso Salad was very yummy, with luscious green spinach leaves. For meat, we had the little chunks of wagyu beef (must try!), other not so famous parts of a cow (but still good!), scallops and tiger prawns with shio and butter marinate. We also ordered the Onigiri, which should be the first thing you put on the grill if you like it to be nice and crispy.

Reservations at the restaurant is a must especially on weekends where you will probably want to book at least 2-3 days in advance. Aburiya has a few outlets in Singapore but I will probably be coming back to this one due to cosy, relaxed atmosphere along the river. Oh, just one thing though, if you drive a SUV/MPV or any large car, try to avoid the carpark in Robertson Quay itself due to the horribly tight ramp plus ridiculously positioned pillars. Much better alternatives are available in the Gallery Hotel next to it or the URA lots by the side of the road.

17E Lorong Liput Holland Village Tel 6464 6536
60 Robertson Quay #01-03 The Quayside Tel: 6735 4862

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Consideration factors for building your own HTPC

This is part two of the HTPC project series. In part one, I've described the advantages of having a HTPC. In this installment, lets talk about some of the key consideration factors you should think about when building your HTPC.

(1) Appearance
As the center of the entertainment hub, the HTPC will usually find its place in the living room near the TV. Unless you conceal it in a cabinet of sorts (which isn't such a good idea due to poor ventilation), you will probably want it to look good or at least blend in with the rest of the living room decor.

This factor will influence your choice of enclosure as well as input devices like remote, mouse and keyboard.

(2) Noise
Again, as the HTPC will mostly be in the same room, you will want it to be as quiet as possible so that you can enjoy the audio fidelity of your music or movies.

Typical noise generators to watch out for are the cooling fans (e.g. power supply, cpu, graphics card) as well as the harddisks. At times, the enclosure as well as the location where you put the HTPC will also aggravate the situation due to bad airflow (causing the fans to spin faster hence nosier).

This consideration will also indirectly affect your choice of the components; more powerful CPU and faster harddisks will generate more heat which in turn cause the fans to spin faster leading to more noise.

(3) Power consumption
Since this is the hub for entertainment, you will probably have it running for a large part of the day in both attended mode (e.g. playing music, movie, games, etc) and unattended mode (e.g. recording TV/FM programs). Hence you will probably want to also consider the power consumption so that it won't break your bank due to running cost.

This will influence your choice of hardware; i.e. rather than getting the top-of-the-line components which are typically power hungry, go for components that are just good enough for your needs. You may also want to consider components that have smart power saving features. e.g. components that shuts itself off or go into low power mode when idle, motherboards that support WOL (i.e. Wake-on-LAN) so that you can remotely start the HTPC instead of leaving it on 24/7.

(4) Usability
Usability here refers to how easy it is to use the HTPC. You will definitely not want a setup where your three years old son or ninety years old granny need to complete a one year IT program before being able to use the system. Neither do you want a setup where you have to click 10 times before you can listen to your favorite CD or watch your favorite program. And lastly, you will definitely not want a setup where you need to get up from your cosy couch and walk across the room to skip a track or turn up the volume!

The above are four key consideration factors to take into account when choosing the parts you put into a HTPC. In the next installment, we will look at which components are required and how these factors will influence the choices we make.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Hey, Thats me in the newspaper! :)

This photo appeared in page 29 of the "Digital Life" section of "The Straits Times" published on the 11th Sept 2007. Nothing special there except that I'm in it! (Good luck guessing which one's me! :)) The article was about wikis but I'm guessing that the author must had ran out of ideas finding a suitable illustration to match for having to recycle such a old photo. (And just how the heck did you find and associate this photo to wikis?? This I'm dying to know!)

A little background on this photo for the curious. It was taken way back in the year 2000 when a bunch of geeks came up with a brilliant (of course *sic*) idea to capitalize on the booming internet advertising market. The idea revolves around the creation of a new advertisement delivery channel that is capable of sending targeted and highly relevant rich media ads over low bandwidth connections to a consumer's desktop. (this is ground breaking stuff back in those times!) More importantly, the model/system is capable of accurately tracking the end-to-end buy cycles of the consumer (both through the channel and otherwise) hence giving the retailers and advertisers the holy grail of internet advertising or any other mass media form of advertising for that matter - to be able to accurately measure the "look-to-book" conversion rates of a marketing campaign.

Personally, I think the concept rocks given that back in those days, retailers/advertisers were paying big money for blasting the masses with banner ads (usually not even targeted) and yet not having the slightest clue on the effectiveness of the campaigns due to the nature/limitation of the approach.

Unfortunately, we came out of the "stealth" phase at a really bad time. The last quarter of 2000 marked the beginning of the melt down of the dotcoms and one of the hardest hit segment is, you guessed it, internet advertising. Trying to convince investors and advertisers alike to come on board an innovative but ultimately untested model, amid shaken confidence and shrinking profits, is akin to convincing a die-hard coffee drinker to try tea; the product may be sound but the interest is just not there at the time.

Anyhow, back to the picture. Looking at it really brings back lots of memories; all the late nights and long weekends burned in office working our ass off, our regular lunch time fragging sessions (counterstrike, unreal tournament) led by our CEO as well as cooking sessions led by our COO. I have to say that although work was tough then, the company was great; one of the best team I have the pleasure to work with. And hell it has been a long time since.

Well, if you guys happen to be reading this, this post is dedicated to you lot of merry man (and women) and lets make an effort to meet up again!! Its been a bloody long time since I last put on a CT uniform! :)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Happy Birthday Jordan!

Our little sunshine turns TWO today! Happy birthday to you! Some call this stage the "terrible two" where they start exhibiting their mischief and give their daddy and mommy a hard time. Well, lets hope our little darling will cut his poor folks some slack and remain as lovable and kissable as he is today! *keeping our fingers and toes crossed*
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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

HTPC? What the hell is that??

For the uninitiated, HTPC stands for Home Theater PC. Its basically a PC designed to replace all your home theater needs; generally it means watching/recording live TV broadcast (with time shifting ala TIVO!), recorded TV programs as well as your collection of DVD movies. Besides watching video, you will also be able to use it to listen to your CD collection and AM/FM radio. On top of these conventional means of home entertainment, your HTPC can also be used for gaming, video conferencing and even karaoke!

So out go your VCR, DVR, DVD player, CD player, AM/FM tuner, TIVO, gaming console, karaoke and VC system. One box to rule them all. Yes, you will still need your bad ass audio setup (i.e. amp and speakers) and your TV of course. Erm.. hang on, TV is actually optional now since your HTPC can serve as the TV tuner so you may want to replace it with a projector for the big screen cinema effect.

Besides just replacing functionalities in your living room setup, a HTPC also opens up your reach to the content via the internet. So apart from your own collection of DVDs, CDs and the local airwave, you will also get access to an (nearly) infinite source of streaming media, ranging from shoutcast audio to Utube videos!

Sold on the idea yet? Want to know how to get started? Stay tuned for the next episode...

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Do you need a NAS for your home?

If you have a few PCs at home (e.g. a PC/notebook for each of your family member, a HTPC for home entertainment, a desktop for your study, and/or an UMPC for your pool side surfing), it make sense to invest in a centralised file server so that you can easily share and manage files (e.g. your holiday pictures and videos, music and docs) among your family members or just between your collection of PC, notebook, UMPC and PDA.

No longer do you need to run around the house turning PCs on and off just so that you can access the shared files on them. No more file access interruptions due to a family member accidentally turning off the shared PC. You will also no longer have to put up with degraded performance on your PC when shared files are being accessed by others.

In addition, data also becomes more manageable and cost efficient when centralised. Without the need to keep multiple copies of the files in individual PCs, you get to save on hard disk space and eliminate file synchronisation and versioning issues. To improve reliability and availability of the data, you only need to invest in RAID for your central file server instead of all the individual PCs.

And lastly, a centralised file store can also serve as a cost effective and efficient means of backup for your other PCs as compared to using removable USB drives or DVD media on each of your PC.

A NAS (which stands for Network Attached Storage) is basically a stripped down computer that primarily serves files on your network. You can choose to build your own using your old hardware (since its essentially a PC), or buy one off the market. Here's my take on why its better to buy than build (or reuse your old hardware) one.
  1. Space saving - Dedicated NAS boxes are no larger than the hard disks they packed. Therefore, they consume much smaller real estate on your desktop, bookshelf or any other location you choose to place them as compared to normal workstation cases (even the micro ITX ones).
  2. Low power consumption (and consequently low heat and noise) - Dedicated NAS boxes usually pack components that have just enough juice to run the file services hence they also have much lower power requirements as compared to normal general purpose workstations. One common misconception here is that by using older generation of workstation components (e.g. your five year old Pentium IV CPU), you can achieve the same results. On the contrary, they generally consumes more power (and generate more heat) than compared to modern hardware with similar performance due to technological improvements in design (e.g. lesser components used) as well as manufacturing process (e.g. miniaturization).
  3. Cheap - You will be surprised to know that a decent two bay NAS can start from just S$200 (without hard disks) and at the lowest end, you can even get a single bay NAS for under S$100. Even the cheapest barebone workstation (casing, power supply, mobo, CPU, RAM) around will probably cost more. Another common misconception here is that it (buying a new dedicated NAS box) still cannot beat your old retired workstation which is "free" (technically it is not since you did pay for it when you first bought it for a different purpose). But do remember that in the broader picture, other than the initial purchase price that you pay, you have to take into account your older hardware will probably consume more power, more prone to failure and not covered under warranty thus resulting in higher running costs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Bye bye Comex... and hello Sitex!

Yes, Comex is finally over and what a show it was. As usual, traffic (both car and human) was a big big problem causing lots of jams and unnecessary waiting in and around town.

As with other shows this year, I chose to go on the last day and not take my car along; a good time to get some much needed exercise anyway :) The crowd both along the way from Raffles City and in Suntec itself isn't all that bad this year; not many places where you need to get up close and personal with strangers and no weird smells to challenge your nose with. Trust me, thats a good thing. No such luck on the way home however, as I stupidly forgotten the golden rule of not taking any bus that throng through little india on a weekend night. (Why? try it and find out for yourself!)

The show itself was pretty good this year. It occupied the whole of the 3rd level concourse, 4th and 6th level halls. Layout was much better than previous shows at suntec, with lots of space to move around. All the usual suspects were present, but Sony made a huge showing by taking the whole of the lvl 3 concourse. In fact, if you are taking the MRT to the show, you would have noticed the huge number of Sony ads along CityLink Mall. They even had this huge feature wall near HMV where they showcased almost all of Sony's range of products. And I'm talking about the real products mind you!

HTC had quite a large booth in front on level 4 but I don't see much people there. I bet the situation would be reversed if only they had taken the opportunity to launch the much anticipated HTC Kaiser at the show. I know I would have gotten one there and then, even without discounts or freebies!

As with other shows nowadays, the common products are LCD/Plasma TVs, DI/DV cameras, notebooks, printers, portable media players, memory cards and external USB/Firewire harddrives.

SOHO NAS products are starting to gain popularity. At this show, I spotted at least 4 entry level offerings. Best bang for the buck at this show will have to go to Dlink's DNS 323 at $259 (usual is $481!). It was so popular that I'm on backorder for 6-8 weeks! Hopefully, the price don't come crashing down before I even get my hands on my purchase!

Well, that about sums up my take on this show. I'm now eagerly waiting for the next upcoming show Sitex 2007. This will be held at Expo (yeah!) from the 29th Nov to 2nd Dec. Hopefully I can hold out till then to get started on my HTPC project!

Monday, September 3, 2007

Look dad! I'm all gown up now!

My my my... how times flies... It has been a long time since I last had a chance to pick my boy home from child-care. Look how he has grown!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Radisson SAS Bosphorus Hotel, Istanbul

I was in Istanbul last week for a business meeting with our European counterparts and was putting up in a lovely hotel called Radisson SAS Bosphorus Hotel. This is a chic hotel located along the Bosphorus strait, a couple of minutes from the Ortaköy Mosque and other tourist spots. Lots of eating and specialty shops around the neighborhood too. Very convenient indeed.

The exterior of the hotel is nothing to shout about. In fact, its main entrance is located on a side road and is rather inconspicuous. The rooms and even the lobby is something else though. The rooms are decorated in a variety of contemporary styles with alot of play on mirrors, lights and murals. The feeling is more like a showflat than a standard monotonous hotel room. Very refreshing especially after a long day at the office!

Two thumbs up! I will definitely be back should i visit the city again.

Radisson SAS Bosphorus Hotel
Çiragan Cad No.46
34349 Ortaköy
Telephone: +0090 212 310 1500
Fax: +0090 212 310 1515

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Saturday, August 4, 2007