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!