Category Archives: Companies

‘Pentium’ branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268!

UPDATE 9/2/2011 – The deal is alive again.  I bought one and it is a reasonably nice screen and keyboard.

Here is a Lenovo “Pentium” branded Sandy Bridge laptop for $268! at Fry’s (Silicon Valley, don’t know about other regions).  That’s a little too good for me to pass up as my old wooden computer experiment is barely holding on from bit rot.  This thing has an Intel B940 dual-core processor that is a 32nm Sandy Bridge microarchitecture chip with all the power saving features of an i3 processor.  Hyperthreading is disabled though.  Comes with Windows 7 Home Premium license.  No HDMI port but c’mon, $268 is rock bottom prices.

Note that these deals will likely be gone in the morning so hurry up if you want one.

This should make you wonder why 10″ tablets should sell for $500, or even $400.  Those IPS displays and capacitive touchscreens are expensive now but they’ll have to come down in price as tablets push those components into the mainstream.  This laptop is obviously nowhere near as portable as a tablet, but it will make a nice luggable device that will primarily be used at home plugged in.

UPDATE – Damn it.  Fry’s reissued a Friday ad on Sunday and a bunch of people there were asking for this and they didn’t have it.

Google Android 6 stage update process

So I bought a new HTC Nexus One (brown with US warranty) last week and it came with a custom Vodafone UK ROM with Android Kernel Version: 2.16.405.1 CL223106 release-keys.  Unfortunately, this particular firmware prohibits any OTA updates or even manual updates and it was a nightmare trying to track down the problem.  Luckily I fell upon this user comment on Amazon’s website which led me to this page explaining the upgrade process which calls for a 5 stage process to get to Android version 2.3.3 which allows you to run the 2.3.4 update.

So to summarize, the upgrade process goes something like this where each stage took about 5-30 minutes (depending on download time).

  • Downgrade to 2.2 build FRG33 using passimg.zip method
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83
  • Upgrade to 2.2.1 build FRG83D
  • Upgrade to 2.2.2 build FRG83G
  • Upgrade to 2.3.3 build GRI40
  • Upgrade to 2.3.4 (Google announcement here)

With an upgrade procedure this onerous, no wonder so few devices are running newer versions of the Android Operating System.  The result is that there is an immense level of Android fragmentation leaving 99% of the devices vulnerable to a serious security flaw in the ClientLogin API.  ClientLogin was apparently designed without any encryption such that AuthTokens are transmitted in the clear.

The market share for non-vulnerable versions of Android OS might be a little better than 1% now but not much better according to Google’s statistics.

Image credit: Google

The tablet wars are not a foregone conclusion

Marco Arment spent a hell of a lot of time trying to make the simple point that the tablet wars are a foregone conclusion in favor of Apple.  The thing that stuck out about his review of a review is that it spends so much time frothing at the mouth because someone said something nice about a competing Apple product that’s true. But if Ars says the hardware of the Tab 10.1 is nicer than the iPad and it’s a true statement, what’s the problem?  The Ars review pointed out that the third party hardware support on iPad is still beating Android.

When you get to the bottom line, Mr. Arment’s conclusion like so many pundits is that the tablet wars are over and Apple owns the market due to its dominance in app support.  If these pundits are right, then every other hardware maker in the industry will just have to hang themselves, fire everyone, and close up shop.  Or the more realistic outcome is that everyone else will tighten their margins and start competing on price.  When nicely configured Android tablets are selling for $300 or less on a more mature Android 3.x OS and a maturing app market, they will be competitive on price and value.

Beyond Apple and Google, Microsoft Windows 8 tablets will start showing up with something that looks like a very usable touch interface in the fall of 2012 (3 years after Windows 7).  The third party app market will be thin but it will run existing Windows software and drivers so that you can do things like print without sticking your iPad or Android device in a copier.  Microsoft will likely make MS Office (including Outlook email) usable on a tablet interface and it will be enterprise manageable in terms of maintenance and security.

The Windows 8 tablets whether they’re on ARM or Intel x86 SoCs (without legacy PCI support) will be competitive on a hardware level for the first time.  The main thing that really bothers me is the fact that Windows 8 won’t show up for more than another year and things can change in that period of time, but it doesn’t mean that the market will only support one or two players.  Microsoft is probably very late to the party, but the game is not over by a long shot especially when the value aspect of Windows tablets come into play.  While the PC makers will be reluctant to participate in a “race to the bottom” in profit margins, that is the harsh reality that they operate in.  Windows 8 tablets will essentially be netbooks with capacitive touch screens which means they shouldn’t really cost more than $100 over the price of existing netbooks.  That puts Windows 8 tablets in the $350 to $500 price range which is very compelling to the stingy PC shoppers who aren’t going to buy Apple.

Apple’s 3.5″ tablet costs $749

Apparently, Apple’s 3.5 inch tablet with 3G and phone capability (what Apple calls their “iPhone”) with 16 or 32 MB storage costs $649 or $749.  These devices are nice, but it’s against my principles to pay that kind of profit margin for a device like this.

If I was in the market for a phone and data service contract that subsidized it, I’d wait for the next model.  This timing just doesn’t seem right.

Angry Birds for Chrome browser review

I just noticed that they now have Angry Birds for the Chrome web browser for free.  I own the $5 version for the Intel App store and wanted to see how this version compares so here are my impressions.

The good

  • It’s free.
  • Installs very quickly with a few clicks.

The bad

  • No full screen mode.  Even the “HD” version plays in a relatively small window on my desktop.  Maybe if this were a netbook with limited resolution and you hit the F11 key for full screen browse mode, it might be more full screen but it’s not a true full screen mode.
  • Introduction videos look a little lossy in quality compared to any other version.

The ugly

  • Game play is noticeably jerky even on my quad-core Intel Nehalem desktop system.

Compared to the Intel App store version, the Chrome version is vastly inferior in graphics quality and game smoothness.  I don’t know if there will be more maps available for the Chrome version, but the Intel App store version seems like a ripoff compared to the free Android OS version because you don’t get all the levels.  Moreover, the Intel App store version now crashes on my Netbook and Notebook and that’s after a complicated install process where you have to install the Intel App store which requires a bunch of junk to be placed in your OS startup.  So it’s all a mixed bag and the best experience seems to be on the Nook Color.

Rosetta Stone Launches iPad App

Yesterday Rosetta Stone launched their TOTALe HD app for the iPad device, another platform which Rosetta Stone included in trying to create a total immersion process for learning a new language.  I was excited to try and get my hands on the app as soon as I managed to get an opportunity.

The app was a welcome addition because now I finally have another reason to use my iPad instead of sit in the corner as a photo frame, which is where the device spends most of the time now.  Rosetta Stone released their app as a free download from the Apple App Store.  In order to use the application, you need to have an active TOTALe subscription to take advantage of the app.  This is included with any purchase of any Rosetta Stone language product as well as if you purchase an online subscription through Rosetta Stone’s website which can even be purchased at three month increments for as little as $199 which would give you access to all levels of the language.

The app itself is great.  While it does not include many of the additional you would get on a PC such as the Studio sessions with instructors or the online games and stories, but the course does include all of the courseware as well as the previous scores that you might have had from taking a lesson.  The courses themselves don’t appear to be stored on the iPad device but downloaded as a stream.  This can lead to the application dragging from time to time if you have a weak internet connection, but in general the app is far less drag on a connection than streaming video and doesn’t have to be as responsive as VoIP or online gaming.

Some of the positive things that I did enjoy with the iPad app for Rosetta Stone is the freedom and portability of the iPad with the functionality of the application.  I can take learning on the iPad outside to my porch where I can enjoy the spring weather and learn a new language. Many times the PC version would almost seem better on a touch screen where the iPad app makes that fully available for you and actually allows some portions of the lessons to proceed a split second faster.  The app takes up little room on the iPad and so even the lowest end 16GB model shouldn’t have any problem with storage capacity.  The installation of the application is only 12.6 MB and has to be done through the iTunes App store.

The downsides to the app are that the courses aren’t stored on the iPad which is unfortunate because I really would like to use the device without having to be connected to a WiFi or 3G connection.  On the positive side, 3G coverage is enough for you to use the courses although I don’t know what the data plan usage would be.   Other problems with the app include the fact that some minor data points are missing yet from the Rosetta App including one of the features that I use to study which would be the date the last time a lesson was completed.  One other feature that I find frustrating is when you have languages in a different character set such as Chinese or Arabic, the app resets the character set after every lesson.  This was very annoying for me because I try and make my learning process just a bit more difficult by learning the advanced characters.  Generally on the PC side, the character set is somewhat static unless you completely close out of Rosetta Stone.

The application is clearly a first release and has a number of issues.  Performance appears to be there, while occasionally response just does not seem to be there.  However, this also can be experienced with a weak internet connection on the PC variant of Rosetta Stone.  One of the clear bugs happened to be how some of the courses would have completion of over 100% for the score.  Clearly this is a bug that will probably be fixed in an update.  I don’t feel the that any of the bugs are detrimental to the learning process.  However I did have the application crash during a lesson.   I was able to pick up right where I left off when the application failed though and within a few seconds.  While working on the application I spent two hours studying Japanese while working through three core lessons.

Overall, I would recommend this application to any iPad owner as well as I would say that Rosetta Stone is definitely a great opportunity to learn another language and worth the expense, especially compared to taking college level courses.  I think that the only way to learn a language faster would be to move to a country where the language to be learned is native to the area.  My hopes are that Rosetta Stone will allow the application to download lessons similarly as downloading movies from iTunes because I would really like to be able to use this in areas where 3G just is not available.

UPDATE: June 7th, 2011.  After further investigation I have discovered that portions of the course where are missing from the iPad version.  Ths would include any lesson that would require typing such as the grammar, and the writing portions of the application.   Hopefully Rosetta Stone will realize that the iPad is also capable of text input with the onscreen keyboard at some point in time.

MacBook Air 2011 Model Launch Immenent

Normally I wouldn’t go out of my way to put forth a baseless prediction, but while browsing the prices I did notice that the refurbished models of the MacBook Air have all dropped by about $20, previously the entry level MacBook Air model was listed at $849 with a 15% discount. I have watched the refurbished store in the past and noticed that shortly before a product launch, the prices for a particular product would drop as a successor was released shortly there after. This would lead me to believe that Apple will probably launch a new MacBook Air right around the time of the WWDC. My only other explanation for Apple to reduce the prices of their refurbished MacBook Airs would be that the products simply aren’t moving from the refurbished market which would be something I have yet to witness from Apple.

The only reason why I am even bringing this up on this site is that after a quick Google search, I haven’t seen anyone else make this observation and thought I would try and be the first to call this prediction.  A number of other sites have predicted the next MacBook Air would be released around June/July with a SandyBridge Processor and Thunderbolt interface.  Most likely this will include an integrated  Intel HD3000 graphics chipset which will likely result in a significant boost in CPU performance all the while being inferior in 3D graphics.  Then again, who buys a MacBook Air for gaming or graphics editing?

UPDATE: Well, apparently I was incorrect in assuming the exact release date.   Hopefully Apple will refresh the model sooner than later.

The Solid State PC

A silent PC is one that makes absolutely no noise, and by necessity has no moving parts (including fans). Such systems usually use very low-end hardware limited to trivial tasks such as running a cash register. The system introduced today, a Solid-State PC (SSPC) is a powerful quad-core i5 PC which runs most software faster than the majority of modern PCs, yet uses less than 25W idle.

Continue reading The Solid State PC

So a SQL Server Transaction Log ate Your Free Space.

This weekend I came across an unusual circumstance that I thought I would share with many of those part-time SQL Server admins. I currently maintain more than a couple of SQL servers. Because SQL Server has a good maintenance program I don’t spend the money on a third party software for backup. Instead I setup the maintenance plan to create a backup every 6 hours and then push the file to a network share. For some reason or another, the network share came detached and the backups filled up the local data volume. This effectively shutdown the server. I cleared up the space, restored the mapping, and didn’t think much more about the problem. I noticed that I was getting a backup file from each database but failed to pay attention to the transaction log.
This is where my new problem that consumed my weekend started. Friday night at 7pm I got another phone call about the SQL server being out of disk space again. Again I had no space on the volume, but the space wasn’t consumed by the backups. Instead, the transaction log which is normally a couple of gigs in size had ballooned to 100GB in size. I had attached an external USB drive to push a backup of the transaction log to and tried to shrink the transaction log from the SQL Server Manager. This only give me about 3 GB of storage back, but they were quickly consumed as soon as the end users started using in their application again. I then kicked off a backup of the database and then transaction log. I now had 99% of the space free in the transaction log file, but still could not shrink the database. I had fought and fought with the database trying to get that free space back.

Finally at about 2am, running out of ideas, I deleted the transaction log file and started up the database again which effectively locked the database for a lot of people. Having migrated the database before, and knowing that a simple restore of the database could easily fix the problem, I took the most recent backup which was actually taken after end users were cut off from the server and restored the database. After the restore, I again had the same problem of a database with a 100 GB transaction log file. This time however, I for some reason threw caution to the wind and performed yet another shrink to the transaction log file. Finally, I freed up 75% of the space on the volume which allowed everything to return to normal.
Why I had to backup and restore the database before I could perform an effective shrink of the database, I do not know. If this has happened to other people, I would like to know the reason behind this.
My corrective actions include scripting a compression command on the backups to reduce their size.  I also plan on creating a trigger to notify me by email when the disk space is low, 20% is one of my favorite guide lines as far as that is concerned. I am considering running a network mapping script to reattach the volume of the server before the files are moved over so that the network volume that I monitor won’t be so easily missed with the other backup files that I file on the backup storage volume.  I don’t like using compression because of how having to decompress a file to restore it effectively adds to the lengthy process of getting the database back to working order.  Then again, having a few extra copies of the database around is also handy.

I am open to other input. I thought I would just share my wonderful late night experience with others in hope to get some improvements or perhaps help out other admins who might run into the same problem.

MacBook Pro 2011, The Good and the Bad

Like many others, I had been holding my breath for the greatness of the Macbook Pro hoping some of the rumors where true while others were not.
First let’s take a look at the good which would be the obvious inclusion of the Sandy Bridge processor. The Core 2 Duo was aging gracefully, but still needed to be retired only to be replaced by a much speedier i5 offering two generations of performance boost over the Core 2 Duo. The immediate added bonus and probably the second most promoted item would be the inclusion of Light Peak, or as we have now rebranded it, Thunderbolt. With an interface that allows for 10GB of bandwidth across the interface, moving data to an SSD has never been so fast. In fact, I might want to run my games off of the external drive because of the speed. Also a couple of maintstays with the New Macbook Pro are the Firewire 800 port and two USB ports. We have the same Super drive without any mentioning of the BluRay drive at this time. Clearly Apple wants to distance itself from Sony and promote their iTunes store here. All MacBook Pros include an illuminated keyboard which they have for a couple of generations now. The resolution starts with the very familiar 1280×800 and moves upwards. We also include the familiar SD card slot which started with the 2010 generation of MacBook Pros  The one last good thing that I have to mention is that they have bumped up the hard drive capacity to 320 GB by default.  However, if you want to get an SSD, they are by no means any cheaper of an upgrade than they were a year ago.

Now time for what I consider the bad. The Macbook Air 13.3″ laptop has a superior 1440×900 resolution screen that makes me almost want that particluar laptop instead of the 13.3″ MacBook Pro. Also, and I personally hold Intel responsible for this, but the 13.3″ models also suffer from using Intel’s intregrated HD 3000 video card. This is an unfortunate departure from the nVidia chipsets in the last four generations of Macbook Pros. At this time, I have not met an Intel video chipset which I have liked. They are all slow performers and lack the power that I need just for my day to day operations. I may try the latest Macbook and change my mind, but I highly doubt this. I can usually tell when I am running a PC with an Intel graphics chip or an alternative.
Last and this is what I probably consider why I recommend anyone with a current Macbook Pro to stay away from this upgrad is that Apple has slashed the battery life with the new upgrade. They are now 3 hours less than the previous generation. That to me means that I might as well stick with my iPad for the long trips or try getting a different brand of laptop. -See Update.  I currently think a Lenovo Thinkpad T420 has my name on it. As much as I was looking forward to the new releases, Apple has done little to impress me and much to disappoint me.

As for Steve Jobs, please get well soon as I feel your company is beginning to disappoint me.

UPDATE: There was a bit of a misunderstanding on the battery life. Apparently the battery holds the same charge as before and the laptop has the same power draw as before, but the tests were changed.  As noted in a computer shopper review.  The battery life is the same in both 13.3″ laptops.  The new testing is that using the DVD drive during the operation of the laptop while the older test was based on “average” use.  Average use would be something akin to browsing the web or performing other low CPU intensive tasks.   I hope that holds accurate as I would hate to see newer generations of laptops moving towards power draining CPUs again.