Saturday, November 26, 2011

USB 3.0 Flash Drives

USB 3.0 ("SuperSpeed"), now becoming a reality, can be up to 10 times faster than USB 2.0 (Hi-Speed), but many early USB 3.0 products are disappointing, not all that much faster than USB 2.0 products, particularly in the case of USB flash drives. Because flash memory writing is relatively slow, higher speeds are only possible with advanced multiple-channel controllers and large RAM buffers, which cheaper products lack. A good choice for high performance is Patriot Supersonic:

Supersonic Xpress
  • 2-channel memory controller
  • 8GB, 16GB: Up to 50MB/s read, 20MB/s write
  • 32GB: Up to 60MB/s read, 25MB/s write
  • 4-channel memory controller
  • 32GB, 64GB: Up to 100MB/s read, 70MB/s write
Supersonic Magnum
  •  8-Channel technology
  •  64GB, 128GB: Up to 200MB/s read, 120MB/s write
    StarTech flush USB 3.0 ExpressCard Adapter
    If your laptop/notebook computer lacks USB 3.0 ports, a good solution is the StarTech flush ExpressCard Adapter:
    If your desktop/tower computer lacks USB 3.0 ports, a good solution is the SYBA USB 3.0 2-port PCI-e Controller Card (based on the Etron EJ168 chip, which is faster than more common NEC/Renesas chips).

    Thursday, October 13, 2011

    Windows 8 Preview

    The Windows 7 UI (user interface) is significantly improved over Windows XP, but both suffer from the ancient PC app-centric paradigm, in which often huge monolithic apps (like Microsoft Office) are launched to do simple tasks, which is slow and painful on even the fastest hardware. Yes, we can leave multiple apps running, but that's confusing to average users, and tends to consume huge amounts of system resources (hurting performance). Attempts to make the PC document-centric haven't really helped. This is a big part of the reason that Google is developing Chrome OS for lightweight cloud-centric PC computing.

    Part of the appeal of Google Android and Apple IOS is that they are task-centric, with lightweight tasks (apps) designed to be suspended and restarted quickly and seamlessly. When you're in (say) Gmail in Android, you can touch Home and then (say) Maps to quickly switch to that task, with Gmail suspended in the background consuming relatively few system resources, and if Android needs those resources, it can kill Gmail while saving state information for a fast restart. If you then touch Home and Gmail again, you are right back where you left off in Gmail whether Gmail is being awakened or restarted. You never have to close an app. There's really no way to do this in Windows without a huge performance hit and/or a huge amount of re-engineering that isn't going to happen. Plus cloud-centric computing is already built into Android, and now into IOS as well (the biggest part of the iPhone 4S announcement).

    Another part of the appeal of Android and IOS is the ability to easily merge disparate sources into one UI component; e.g., a widget that merges phone (Google) contacts, Facebook contacts, Twitter contacts, etc. Windows 8 is an attempt to do this on the PC, but since it fails to solve the app-centric paradigm issue, I don't think it's going to be all that successful -- Windows users have too much invested in current apps and how they work. What I think Microsoft really needs is a new cloud-centric desktop OS (like Chrome), but the Windows 8 Preview isn't even half that loaf. Microsoft may now get it, but apparently lacks the courage to do it.

    Saturday, July 16, 2011

    Internet Fax

    Despite the explosive shift to digital communications, there can still sometimes be a need for old-style analog facsimile (fax), but thanks to the Internet it's no longer necessary to have a fax machine and fax phone line.
    The principal drawback to Internet fax can be cost, in that many Internet fax services are monthly subscription plans, but if your needs are modest, here's how to do fax over the Internet on the cheap (best deals as of this writing):
    • Incoming: Free service from eFax. You'll be given an incoming fax number, and your incoming faxes will be sent to you by email. To view (or print) faxes received by email, you'll need to download and install eFax Messenger software.
    • Outgoing: Pay As You Go service from Fax1. Currently $0.12 per delivered page to the USA. (International rates here) $1 free trial credit to get started; buy more credit as needed. Download and install FaxBlaster software to print to fax from any software on your computer, or use any of several other faxing options. (Use the incoming eFax number when setting up your outgoing Fax1 account.)
      UPDATE: Fax1 no longer works properly and is not being supported.
      Instead, use a free personal account at FilesAnywhere to send up to 10 faxes per month. Fully professional quality and service, highly recommended!

    Friday, July 1, 2011

    Scratched CD/DVD/Blu-ray Discs

    When you have trouble playing or reading an optical disc, CD, DVD, or BD (Blu-ray Disc), the first thing to do is clean the disc. There's no need for fancy cleaners – just hand wash the disc with mild dish soap (nothing abrasive), rinse thoroughly, and dry with soft cloth (not paper towel, which can scratch).

    If that doesn't do the trick, then the disc may be scratched, which interferes with the optical laser pickup. Expensive kits are available to fix scratches in optical discs, but what can do the job more cheaply in many cases is simple furniture polish (e.g., Pledge™). Spray on generously; polish thoroughly with soft absorbent cloth; and make sure it's completely dry before trying to play or read it.

    If that doesn't work, then commercial polishing using abrasives, like the TAP Plastics Novus system, may be needed.

    Thursday, June 9, 2011

    Coffee Grinders under $100

    Capresso Infinity
    Grinding your own coffee is essential for great tasting coffee, and the best grinders are burr mill. (Conical burr is generally superior to disc wheel burr, just as disc wheel burr is superior to blades.) Burr grinders tend to be much more expensive than blade "grinders", but there are a few burr grinders that are both good and affordable:

    Wednesday, June 1, 2011

    Favorite Android App: QuickPic

    Latest addition to my list of Favorite Android Apps is QuickPic, a replacement for the stock Gallery app for image (picture) viewing that's much more elegant, efficient, and fast!

    Wednesday, May 25, 2011

    Favorite Android App: Equalizer

    Latest addition to my list of Favorite Android Apps is Equalizer, a great tool for adjusting sound frequencies and effects on Gingerbread (version 2.3) and later versions of Android.

    Monday, May 23, 2011

    Worthy Netbook Computer At Last!

    Netbook computers are a great idea – portables with good battery life and real keyboards that are less expensive, smaller and lighter than typical notebook/laptop computers, but up to now they have been flawed by poor performance (processor and graphics), small low-resolution glossy screens that are hard to read in bad lighting, poor keyboards, limited RAM memory, and lackluster design. It's no wonder that tablets like the Apple iPad have been giving them a run for their money. But now that's changing thanks to a new breed of netbooks powered by AMD Fusion APUs, which feature CPU and GPU on a single chip resulting in good performance with relatively low power consumption (good battery life).

    The best of these new netbooks is the Lenovo ThinkPad X120e (awarded Best Affordable Business Ultraportable at CES 2011):
    • Very well built and supported
    • Superb full-size keyboard with both TouchPad and TrackPoint
    • Non-glare (matte) 11.6" screen with high 1366x768 resolution and LED backlight
    • Very good performance, more like a notebook than a netbook
    • Up to 4GB RAM
    • Fast 320GB 7200rpm SATA Hard Drive
    • Excellent connectivity (Wi-Fi, gigabit Ethernet, 3 USB 2.0, SD slot, Bluetooth)
    • Webcam
    • Small and light
    Look for sales on the Lenovo website to bring the total price under $500 with free shipping. (Through May 26, 2011, a fully loaded configuration can be had for only $428 here, no Visa card needed, just apply displayed coupon at checkout.)

    MY OWN REVIEW (based on 2 hours of intensive use of a ThinkPad X120e with 1GB RAM, should be faster with 2-4GB RAM)
    • Fit and finish is very good, case not rubberized like ThinkPad T-series, but still a nice matte black.
    • Machine itself is quite light, with much of the total weight in the battery.
    • Keyboard is very good, with nice key travel, albeit not quite as rigid as older ThinkPad T-series.
    • Both TouchPad and TrackPoint provide excellent response and accuracy.
    • Single headset (smartphone-type TRRS) socket instead of separate microphone and headphone sockets makes sense.
    • Screen is sharp, on par with higher resolution ThinkPad T-series.
    • Software (OS, utilities, Microsoft Word) is responsive and snappy, programs opening quickly and running cleanly, with little apparent difference versus a more powerful laptop, even when running more than one program at the same time.
    • Video playback was smooth even at full screen when accelerated, although it was sometimes a little jerky when not accelerated.
    • Did not test webcam, speakers or microphone.
    • As compared to ThinkPad T-series, screen has lower contrast and less even backlighting.
    • No ThinkLight or other keyboard illumination, a glaring (inexcusable) flaw.
    • No SSD option. 
    UPDATE: The X120e is being replaced by the X121e, which may make the X120e more affordable until supplies are gone.

      Sunday, May 22, 2011

      How To Restore Google Chrome

      Google Chrome is an excellent Web browser, fast and secure, but you might get the error message: "Your preferences file is corrupt or invalid. Google Chrome is unable to recover your settings." This unfortunate bug can normally be fixed with Windows Vista or Windows 7 using the following procedure:
      1. Close any Chrome windows that might be open.
      2. Click Windows Start at left end of Task Bar, put the following in Search Box or Run, and press [Enter]:
        That should open an Explorer window with folders including "Chrome".
      3. Right-click on the "Chrome" folder, and then click "Restore previous versions" in the pop-up menu to open the Chrome Properties window.
      4. Click to select the top (most recent) version, and then click "Restore...".
      5. That should pop up a confirmation window ("Are you sure you want to restore..."). Click Restore.
      6. Windows should then copy a bunch of files to restore Chrome, finishing with
        "The folder has been successfully restored to the previous version."
      7. Click OK to close the message, then close the Properties and Explorer windows.
      8. Launch Chrome. If you get a "didn't shut down properly" message just close it with the "X" at the right (or ignore it).


      1. "Restore previous versions" does not exist in Windows 8. Use File History instead
      2. This procedure is covered in Windows 7 Help and Support under "Recover lost or deleted files" in the section "To restore a file or folder to a previous state".
      3. This only works if you have System Restore enabled and/or have used Windows Backup.
      4. You can try restoring an earlier version if necessary.
      5. If this doesn't work, you can start over by closing Chrome and deleting the Chrome folder.
      See also How To Restore Mozilla Firefox.

      Tuesday, April 5, 2011

      Manage Passwords on PC, Android, and more

      KeePass Password Safe
      Many (most?) people make the serious mistake of using a single password for multiple online sites. The reason this is a bad idea is that when online sites get broken into, which happens all too often, passwords can be stolen that provide access to other sites, contributing to identity theft and serious losses; e.g., your compromised social networking site giving bad guys access to your online banking site.

      The best way to protect against this risk is to use different (strong) passwords for different sites, so the compromise of any one site affects only that one site. Many (most?) people don't do that because it seems like so much hassle. But it really isn't -- software exists that easily generates and manages unique strong passwords -- all you have to do is remember one (strong) master password that you don't use for anything else. Your other passwords are stored in a secure encrypted database file.

      A related problem if you use more than one networked device (computer, tablet, smartphone) is having your passwords available on all of them. Fortunately there is a very good, free, open, and secure password manager that runs on many different types of devices: KeePass. The port for Android is called KeePassDroid.

      To share your password database between your networked devices you can use a "cloud" service like DropBox, Google DriveMicrosoft OneDrive. (And since your password database is securely encrypted, you don't need to worry about cloud security.)

      For cloud sync to my Android devices, I use FolderSync.

      Strongly recommended.     Do it.     Today.

      Sunday, April 3, 2011

      Favorite Android Apps

      Android apps I use and recommend (with links to Android Market):
      • AContact (new!)
        Advanced Contact management
      • Adobe Flash Player
        View website Flash content
      • AndFTP
        Download and upload files by FTP
      • Antennas
        Display nearby cellular towers and signal strength
      • App Cache Cleaner
        Free up memory by clearing cached data
      • BeyondPod
        Best podcatcher for Android (download or stream podcasts)
      • B&H Photo Video Pro Audio (new!)
        online source of photo, video, audio, computers, and more
      • Blogger
        Update your Google Blog from Android
      • Chrome to Phone
        Send content to Android from Google Chrome browser on your PC
      • ColorDict Dictionary Translate
        Excellent customizable dictionary, translations too
      • ConvertPad - Unit Converter
        Wide range of unit conversions
      • Craigslist Notification
        Automatic search for stuff on craigslist
      • dMarks (new!)
        Best way to access and manage Browser Bookmarks
      • Docs (new!)
        Google has finally made Docs relevant to Android
      • Download All Files (new!)
        Makes it possible to download pretty much anything
      • eBay (new!)
        The official app is now pretty good
      • Equalizer
        Adjust frequencies and sound effects (Gingerbread and later)
      • ES File Explorer
        Best file manager for Android
      • exoScribe (new!)
        Save and edit notes as regular text files (unlike other apps)
      • Fandango (new!)
        Buy movie tickets online
      • GasBuddy
        Check gas station prices around you
      • Gesture Search
        Great way to access your Apps, Bookmarks, Contacts, etc
      • Go SMS Pro
        Messaging redefined, powerful and flexible
      • Google Voice
        Voice telephony redefined, excellent
      • GPS Test (new!)
        Detailed GPS information, including exact location and time
      • Groundhog Newreader
        Best Usenet article reader for Android
      • Groupon (new!)
        Must have for Groupon junkies
      • IMDb
        Internet Movie Database, reference for movies
      • KeePassDroid
        Securely manage and share passwords between Android and PC
      • Log Collector
        Send Android System Log to developer after an app crashes
      • MortPlayer Audio Book
        Best audio book player for Android
      • Movies
        Flixster movie app, reviews, showtimes, and more
      • Music (Google Beta) (new!)
        Stream your music from the cloud
      • My Tracks
        Google app great for hiking, records your track
      • NetCounter
        Keeps track of wireless data usage
      • Newegg (new!)
        One of the best sellers of electronic gear on the Internet
      • NoLED (new!)
        Display notifications over your lock screen
      • OpenTable
        Find restaurants and make reservations
      • Pandora
        Awesome free music streaming service
      • Prey
        Protects your Android against theft or loss
      • QuickMark (new!)
        Best QR code scanner and generator for Android
      • QuickPic
        Image viewer that's elegant, efficient, and faster than stock Gallery app
      • RepliGo Reader
        Best way to view PDF documents on Android (better than Adobe)
      • SendContact (new!) Share your contacts in various ways
      • Shaddapp (new!)
        Best app sharing for Android
      • Shopper
        Google's nice shopping app, look up products by bar code
      • SoundHound
        Amazing way to recognize and identify songs
      • Speed Test
        Check your wireless data speed
      • Starbucks
        Official way to pay and to manage your account
      • Superpages
        Online yellow pages
      • Swype
        Great keyboard alternative, tracing faster than typing
      • TuneIn Radio
        Excellent Internet radio
      • Widgetsoid
        Great way to control your Android from Notification Bar
      • Wifi Analyzer
        Display nearby Wi-Fi access points and signal strength
      • Yelp
        Local merchants with ratings
      So which Android smartphone do I use?
      Nexus S, pure Android, best smartphone for my needs.

      Updated: October 23, 2011

          Wednesday, March 30, 2011

          Security Lock for Portable Computer

          Leave your laptop/notebook/netbook computer unattended and you may well become a victim of "grab and run", the most common kind of computer theft, which can happen even when you are using it. Portable computers are a tempting target for thieves because they are so easily fenced.

          To prevent this kind of theft, pretty much all portable computers have a Kensington Security Slot, a small reinforced hole for a locking mechanism that looks somewhat like but a bit smaller than a USB slot.

          A variety of computer locks are available ranging from complete junk to complete overkill. A good balance of function, security, and convenience is the Targus DEFCON CL PA410U, which features a 4-digit combination lock (no key to lose) that you can set to the combination of your choice. (It won't stop a determined thief with heavy bolt cutters, but pretty much nothing will.) Find a good price with Google Shopper.

          IMPORTANT UPDATE: Due to serious deficiencies, I now rate the Targus DEFCON CL PA410U unacceptable -- see A Tale of Two Locks.

          Tuesday, March 15, 2011

          Knots Every Sailor Should Know

          Alpine Butterfly
          These eight knots will cover 99% of your marine knot needs. [click links to more information and instructions on how to tie]
          1. Alpine Butterfly (animation)
            Strong and secure, will not shake out, will not jam, better than bowline. Use Method #4 (video) instead of Bowline.
          2. Bowline (animation)
            Strong, easy to tie, but can shake out if not locked.
          3. Buntline Hitch (animation)
            Great knot for halyards, securing fenders to lifelines, etc, but can jam.
          4. Cleat Hitch
            Use for securing ropes to cleats.
          5. Figure Eight Knot (animation)
            Good stopper knot, can be adapted for other purposes.
          6. Gripping Sailor's Hitch
            Great for securing one rope to another rope under load.
          7. Slipped Half Hitch
            Quick-release knot for sail ties and bags, not secure. Also useful as temporary stopper knot; e.g., for spinnaker sheet at a block (animation).
          8. Square (Reef) Knot (animation)
            Famously used for tying reef points in sails.
          Sheet Bend is deliberately omitted because it's weak and unreliable.
          Two Alpine Butterflys tied together or two bowlines tied to each other (Bowline Bend) are better alternatives, or for ropes of roughly similar thickness the Alpine Butterfly Bend

          More Knot Resources

          Monday, March 14, 2011

          Carbon Fiber Spinnaker Pole Repair

          When our 14-foot carbon fiber spinnaker pole snapped (due to excessive lateral loading) and we were confronted with a very expensive dilemma (a thousand dollars for repair by professional riggers or thousands of dollars for a new pole), we managed to repair our pole ourselves, quickly and much less expensively, by means of a repair tube custom built for us by Jeffery Kent of Composite Solutions Inc, who:
          • promptly built a 3-foot carbon fiber tube to match the outside diameter of our pole,
          • machined down the ends to match the inside diameter of our pole,
          • leaving a center section to replace the broken pieces we cut away from our pole, and
          • rushed it to us by air.
          We bonded the two pieces of our broken pole with epoxy to the machined ends of the custom repair tube, and the resulting repaired pole both looks and works great. (To complete the repair we will wrap the repaired area and clear coat to protect it.)

          Highly recommended.

          Friday, February 4, 2011

          Free Sailing Lesson on the Water | Berkeley

          The Cal Sailing Club, a non-profit, volunteer-run sailing club located in Berkeley gives free Beginning/Intermediate/Advanced Sailing Lessons on Monday and Thursday afternoons at 1pm.

          To take a sailing lesson come to the clubhouse at 1:00 PM. Lessons are taught on a first-come, first-served basis by qualified fellow Cal Sailing members.

          You don’t need any gear whatsoever. We have loaner gear for everything you need…. everything from the boat to life jackets to sailing bibs to foul weather jackets – even wetsuits if you would like to get really wet. All of these are available in a variety of sizes for you to borrow while sailing.

          Questions? Give Cal-Sailing member Joel a call at 510-343-5635
          What Can you Learn at This Sailing Lesson? A Cal Sailing beginning sailing lesson typically provides an hour and a half on the water with one instructor and up to four students in a 15′ dinghy sailboat.
          Students rig the boats (put them in the water and raise the sails). On the water, each student gets about twenty minutes at the helm (driving the boat) to practice steering, adjusting the mainsail, coming about and jibing, man overboard drill (picking up a float from the water), hiking out (using your weight to balance the sails’ force), docking, and other maneuvers. When not at the helm, the other students practice keeping watch and applying right of way rules, adjusting the jib (front sail), hiking out, and identifying wind direction and point of sail (angle of boat relative to wind). Students who pass the written, rigging, and sailing test (and contribute 2 hrs extra work) get the Junior Skipper rating that allows them to practice and take out friends and family in club boats.

          Monday, January 24, 2011

          Android apps for Sailing/Racing

          If you have an Android smartphone, these are the sailing/racing apps I use and recommend:
          • Beer Can Racer
            Tactical racing app, much like a held-held GPS but with racing specific features. Excellent, but still a work in progress.
          • EarthNC
            Display of NOAA raster marine charts. Excellent, but still a work in progress.
          • Marine Traffic
            Displays real-time data for (mostly commercial) vessels with AIS. Excellent, but still a work in progress, try the mobile website as well.
          • Tide Prediction
            Best of the (mostly mediocre) tide apps for Android.
          Also useful (when you have a data connection) are these mobile websites:
          So which Android smartphone do I use?
          Nexus S, pure Android, best smartphone for my needs.