Thursday, February 28, 2013

Why Netbooks Flopped

Netbook computers seemed like such a good idea: low-cost, compact, portable computers with good battery life and enough power for common tasks. At first sales took off reasonably well, but we can now see it was a cycle of rise and fall. Why did they ultimately fail?

I think the answer may be best illustrated with an anecdote: When updating a typical netbook that hadn't been used in about 9 months, it took over two hours to apply the accumlated Windows XP patches, and another hour to update applications. And that was by an expert. Simple tasks like populating the Add/Remove Programs window that should have taken seconds instead took many agonizing minutes. It's just too painful to endure. The value proposition just isn't there.

But that's not the fault of the netbook -- it's the fault of Windows, which takes way too much maintenance and tweaking, and which needs much more powerful hardware to run decently!

But there is hope for the machine: Chromium OS Vanilla, the open source development version of Google Chrome OS, "a lightweight, lightning-fast operating system for your netbook, laptop or even desktop. With the familiar environment of Chromium/Chrome, the entire web is at your fingertips in seconds. HTML5 is fully supported, allowing you to enjoy the very best that the web has to offer." It has the potential to turn the netbook into a speedier, easier to maintain Chromebook. Stay tuned!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chromebook Pixel: close, but no cigar

The Google Chromebook Pixel is presumably meant to be the best that a Chromebook can be, and while it is an attractive package with a killer screen, it has a number of flaws that just don't belong in a premium-priced machine:

9. Bluetooth: 3.0 is adequate, but it should have been 4.0 for the advances in power conservation (battery life).

8. DisplayPort: DisplayPort is adequate, but HDMI would have made more sense.

7. Storage: 32GB isn't enough for a premium machine; 64GB should have been the minimum.

6. Memory: 4GB isn't enough for effectively managing many open tabs; 8GB should have been included.

5. USB: 2.0 is painfully slow; 3.0 is becoming essential for high speed devices.

4. Gloss: Glare is a problem on the glossy screen; should have been non-glare. 

3. Weight: At 3.35 lbs it's about a pound heavier than it should be, almost as heavy as a light notebook computer.

2. Keyboard: Just backlit isn't enough, a premium machine warrants a premium keyboard (like the Lenovo ThinkPad).

1. Battery: 4 hours of typical use just doesn't cut it, needs to be 8 hours (at least double).

As the saying goes, "Never buy version 1.0!" And Chromebook Pixel is no exception. Perhaps Google will get it right with version 2.0.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Guacamole Ole!

Serves 4
  • 2 ripe Haas avocados
  • ½ fresh tomato, coarsely chopped and drained
  • ¼ fresh onion, chopped (Maui/sweet preferred, but yellow OK)
  • ¼ cup salsa (Safeway Select Southwest medium preferred)
  • Small squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 1 clove fresh garlic, crushed
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder (or to taste, good quality, like Grandma's Chili Powder*)
  • Salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
  1. Mash avocados but leave slightly chunky
  2. Mix in remaining ingredients
  3. Adjust heat with chili, pepper (ground or flakes), and/or salsa
  4. Let stand to meld flavors for a few minutes
  5. Serve with tortilla chips (Casa Sanchez Thick & Crispy preferred) and classic Margaritas
* Alas, Grandma's Chili Powder has been discontinued, but a good alternative is Williams Chili Seasoning.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Tequila Bargain!

No more Zapopan at Trader Joe. See Updates below.

To make a great Margarita you need great tequila, and most of the widely-available affordable tequilas (including name brands) are dreadful mixtos. (See Types of Tequila) Fortunately there is a very good tequila that won't bust your budget: Zapopan, sold by Trader Joe's for only $10 per liter, both Blanco (lighter) and Reposado (richer and smoother). It's generally better than anything else under $20, and stands up well to anything else under $30.

Classic Margarita
  • 3 oz tequila
    100% agave, reposado preferred
  • 1 oz triple sec*
    good quality, orange curaçao also works well
  • 1 oz lime juice**
    unsweetened, preferably fresh, Mexican/Key lime for extra flavor
Shake with cracked ice, and serve in rocks glass, over cracked ice, without salt.
For more sweetness, add more triple sec (or agave nectar).
Great accompaniment to guacamole!

Drillaud Triple Sec
Update (12/2015)
: The price of Zapopan has gone up to $12 per liter, but that's still a great bargain!

Update (8/2017): Alas, Trader Joe's no longer carries Zapopan, and the replacement tequila doesn't measure up, but Zapopan can still be found at Bitters+BottlesThe price is higher, but it's still a great bargain. Only Blanco is stocked, but Reposado can be ordered.

Update (5/2020): In California, try Mission Wine & Spirits (in Pasadena), which ships to California addresses: $19.95 for 1L (still a bargain).

Update (6/2021): Mission Wine & Spirits price has gone up so much (now $25.99 for 1L) that I recommend the alternatives below.

Tequila alternatives (easy to find)
  1. Olmeca Altos Reposado
  2. Lunazul Reposado (bargain)
  3. El Jimador Reposado
  4. Kirkland Signature Reposado (not the Silver)
* Triple Sec recommendations:
  1. Drillaud (excellent)
  2. Mr Stacks 60 Proof (bargain)
  3. Hiram Walker 60 (not the lower proof)
  4. Patrón Citrónge and Cointreau are good but overpriced
** Key (Mexican) Lime Juice:
  1. Florida Key West 100% Authentic Key Lime Juice
  2. Nellie and Joe's 100% Key Lime Juice (not the similar Key West Lime Juice)

Friday, February 8, 2013

Record Internet Radio

VLC as a Recorder
Tip: You can record without a computer using an online service. See Record Radio Online.

Tip: You can transcode streams to make them easier to record. See Transcode with VLC.

VLC media player (free open source cross-platform multimedia player and framework) is a great way to listen to Internet radio (streams). All you need is a streaming URL (often obtainable from the source website; e.g., from KUSC) which you open in VLC with Media > Open Network Stream. To save a source for future listening while it is playing, just drag the Title and drop it onto the Media Library.

Recording a source while it's playing is quite easy: View > Advanced Controls to make the recording control available; click on the red record button circle to record; and click again to stop recording. The recording file will be appropriately named and (on Windows) saved in your Music folder.

Scheduling recordings for times when you're not at your computer can be done with (a) the Task Scheduler built into Windows and (b) the VLC command line interface. Start by testing your recording command in a Command Prompt window, with the following four elements separated by spaces:
  1. Complete path to vlc.exe; e.g.,
    "C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe"
  2. Stream URL; e.g.,
  3. Recording duration in seconds; e.g., (for 60 mins)
    --run-time 3600 vlc://quit
  4. VLC record parameters; e.g.,
The record parameters above assume the stream is in the most universal MP3 format. Where a source has multiple stream formats available, choose MP3 to avoid problems; to try recording some other format, use the appropriate file extension (instead of .mp3). You can of course change the file name from Recording to whatever you might prefer. To create unique file names with date and time, see VLC Documentation: Format String; e.g., Recording_%Y%m%d_%H%M

Complete example with date and time (single line): ‑‑run‑time 3600 vlc://quit ‑‑sout‑file‑format ‑‑sout="#std{access=file,mux=raw,dst=The_Record_Shelf_%Y‑%m‑%d_%H%M_(KUSC).mp3}"

Putting them all together on a line in a Command Prompt window should launch the VLC GUI and create the recording file. After VLC has completed the recording and quit, double-click on the recording file to play it, or open it in VLC. When this is working properly, you can move on to scheduling:
  1. Open Task Scheduler
  2. Click Create Task
  3. On the General tab:
    1. Enter Name (e.g., My Stream)
    2. Select Run whether user is logged on or not
  4. On the Triggers tab, click New:
    1. Enter desired schedule
    2. Check Stop task if it runs longer than: and enter twice desired recording duration
    3. Make sure Enabled is checked
    4. Click OK
  5. On the Actions tab, click New:
    1. Action: Start a program
    2. Program/script: complete path to vlc.exe (1st item above); e.g.,
       "C:\Program Files\VideoLAN\VLC\vlc.exe"
    3. Add arguments (optional): 2nd and 3rd items separated by a space; e.g., --run-time 3600 vlc://quit --sout="#std{access=file,mux=raw,dst=Recording.mp3}"
      (Note: Display of line above may be truncated!)
  6. On the Conditions tab, set whatever options you wish
  7. On the Settings tab:
    1. Set Stop the task if it runs longer than: to twice desired recording duration
    2. Check If the running task does not end when requested, force it to stop
  8. Click OK to save the task
  9. Test the task by selecting it in the Task Scheduler Library:
    1. Click Run to start the task
    2. Click End to stop the task
    3. Check recorded file
  10. Close Task Scheduler