Life’s like that

In all my years of servicing computers, it hasn’t happened before, but there’s always a first time. Let me explain.

One of my clients wanted to replace his aging and misbehaving D-Link router+modem so he called me up. Okies, no biggie there, I told him straightaway to substitute it with the Linksys WRT54G2 router (setting it up was a painful experience when I did it for myself, but after the ordeal and threatening the brainless gadget, it has behaved well ever since. Read more here) The client gave the go-ahead, so I went to my supplier and bought it.

On the eve of setting it up for my client, I was just twiddling my fingers and feeling very pleased with myself. And then it hit me like a ton of bricks—the Linksys WRT54G2 is only a router, it doesn’t have a modem in it. Ugh, panic started to grip me and I quickly contacted the supplier and asked him whether he had any combo routers and modems in stock…sorry, nope (Murphy’s Law strikes again) The only recourse was to get another DSL modem and that of course would mean that the client would have to cough up some extra cash. I called the client up, explained the situation to him, and apologized. He said he’d consult with his daughters and get back to me.

I waited for a few minutes, my client called up, and said that no, his daughters said it was going to be too costly. I offered my apologies to him again and said it was entirely my fault (and it was). He was very polite, and said he hoped I could get a refund for the Linksys router.

Well over here in good old Malaysia, it’s next to impossible to get your money back after you’ve paid for a product (especially when it’s not defective in any way) Fortunately my supplier said I could exchange it for something else—phew! Let’s see, my 80GB hard drive was beginning to fill up, so yeah, I’ll spring for a Western Digital 500GB hard drive…my supplier said that’d be fine.

I think I handled this episode pretty well, but I’ve learned a few things from it:

  1. If it’s your fault, apologize straightaway. Don’t make up any excuses because you’ll look even more like a fool. I apologized immediately to my client and I behaved like a professional. I made a snafu, so there. It happens.
  2. Learn to laugh, or at least smile to yourself. No point overheating your own systems, if you know what I mean. I was grateful that my supplier at least offered to exchange the Linksys for a hard drive.
  3. Learn from your mistakes. I didn’t think carefully enough this time. It won’t happen again…gotta think these things through very, very meticulously.

“A man’s errors are his portals of discovery.” James Joyce

The ABC’s of Me (D-E)

D: Digital, Dell, Drums

I simply love digital stuff—whether it’s a computer, my camera (Canon PowerShot SX120IS, yup), my amazing Yamaha Clavinova, or even my wrist watch, and lest I forget, the humble CD. I was so glad when the compact disc came out in the 80’s because I listen to a lot of classical music, and it’s a sheer annoyance when the record warps, or I’m trying to find the third movement of a Mozart symphony on cassette tape (ah yes, remember that? And that unbearable hiss?) I’m just knocked out with the CD, where one can simply jump forward and backward to any track. And not only that, recordings are clean as a whistle (most of them anyway) without the annoying hiss.

I’ve mentioned enough of my Yamaha Clavinova digital piano in previous posts. Suffice to say, digital pianos beat acoustic pianos flat (excuse the pun) because of several things:

Yamaha CVP-409GP Clavinova

  • No need for tuning and maintenance (yes your piano tuner will hate you for buying one) Just remember that it needs some electricity.
  • The sounds are sampled from a concert grand piano costing more than my house, my car, and all my other worldly possessions combined.
  • Recording can be done on the spot for burning to a CD or uploading to a blog, as I’ve done in My Music page.
  • Lots of other sounds available, plus drum accompaniment, etc. A built-in metronome is included too.
  • Large LCD display for viewing parameters.
  • Now what I need is the kitchen sink.

All I can say is, live long and prosper, digital!

 Dell Studio 15

Truth be told, I’ve been contemplating getting a Dell laptop for the past year, and kept putting it off. Now it seems unavoidable that I get one, because I need it for teaching students advanced music theory when I’m out of the house. I’d originally planned on getting the Dell XPS M1530 but that has been discontinued and moreover it was a little on the pricey side. Now I’ve set my sights on the Studio 15 and it comes with Windows 7 to boot. And *snigger* next time when I spend a night or two at the E & O Hotel I can just bring this baby along—no more Internet withdrawal symptoms!

Yup, believe it or not, I was pretty good on the drums when I was a kid. My dad used to conduct a big band at home, and although I was intrigued by the piano and other instruments, it was the drummer that had me swinging along. When the rehearsal was over, everybody left with their instruments except for the drummer. Then it was my turn to groove. I hopped onboard, imagining myself playing with the other musicians, and pretty soon I was lost in my own world. My folks were amused and mom used to put on a record or two and I’d play in perfect time with the music. I remembered one of my favorites was Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman. I could play a wide variety of drum styles including the rumba, tango, fox-trot, bossanova, etc. Although my dad was pleased with my drumming talents he rightfully had my future in mind for me and steered me back to the piano. However, I’m still a pretty good drummer!

E: Eyes, E & O Hotel

Don’t get me wrong, but I don’t like my eyes. They’re small, they have been giving me trouble since 5th grade and as a result I have been wearing glasses and contact lenses ever since. My vision remained quite stable during my 20’s and 30’s. However, it began to deteriorate after that—I was having a hard time seeing faraway objects. A checkup with my optometrist and ophthalmologist confirmed my fears—cataracts were developing in both my eyes (this was about 10 years ago).

I had thicker glasses made. I wore contacts with a higher power, it reached a point where I was wearing contacts with the highest power available! And everybody knows that you can’t reverse cataract growth, it has to be surgically removed. I put it off until earlier this year, when a visit to Valerie (my optometrist—she’s great) became the straw that broke the camel’s back. My glasses were like bottles already and she said it was pointless to make new ones which would be even thicker—yuck!! She advised me to see my ophthalmologist saying that now would be the right time to have my cataracts removed. Guess what, this time I didn’t put it off. I went straight to see Mr. Lee, my ophthalmologist.

To cut a long story short (see my Eye to Eye posts for the details) I had the cataracts from both eyes removed in June and July of this year. And what bliss it was to be able to see well without those hideously thick glasses! Nonetheless I still had to wear reading glasses because my intense myopia had actually masked my long-sightedness. But reading glasses are fine with me. I just thank God when I wake up every morning that I’m able to see well without reaching for glasses. It has truly been a wonderful blessing for me this year.

Eastern & Oriental Hotel, Penang Dec 2006 004.jpg

Sir Noel Coward has stayed there. So has Douglas Fairbanks, Hermann Hesse, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, Charlie Chaplin, and Joan Chen. I’m talking about the E & O Hotel, Penang’s Grand Old Dame. P/S I’ve stayed there too! I feel like I’ve known this hotel all my life. After all my parents were entertainers there for over 40 years, and I used to visit the hotel regularly when I was growing up. During my teenage years I would often take over playing the piano for my dad when he desired a break (but actually he wanted me to gain experience playing in front of an audience, thanks, Dad!) Of course the hotel has changed over the years. Its last refurbishment was in 1997 but due to the Asian financial crisis this had to be put on hold for a few years. The hotel finally reopened in 2001 and the refurbishment has really brought back the shine to this renowned establishment.

One of the main corridors of the E & O

I started work at the “new” E & O in December 2004. I’ve been playing there ever since, on Friday and Saturday nights. It’s a wonderful job, I have a fantastic boss in Mike, and need I mention that the food is glorious (yes, Food Glorious Food!) The rooms are unlike rooms found in any other hotel. You just have to stay at the E & O Hotel to experience and bask in the ambience and glamour of this fine lady. And…I gotta cook up an excuse to ask the boss for another night’s stay again, hee hee!

All the news that’s fit to print

It has been a most unusual week. I installed two apps on my computer, namely:

  • Avira’s AntiVir Premium ($13 USD) a great antivirus app, only spoilt by its ugly scanning interface (yes, I know—I should get a life, thank you, Miss Miller) It has saved my skin more than once though.
  • Microsoft Security Essentials—Final version (free) is just the opposite of the above app. It has a simple interface (and also a nice-looking scanning bar—take that, Avira!!) However, after installing and uninstalling and reinstalling this for 2 or 3 times, I said goodbye to it, deleted the installer and booted it completely out of my system. Reasons below.

So why did I ditch Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE)? Because it’s buggy, that’s why (and shame on the big M since this is touted as a Final version). After installing it, my floppy disk drive would activate periodically, even though I excluded it from the MSE scanner settings. Uninstalled MSE, and no more phantom access in my floppy drive. I change my mind and said oh what the heck, let’s give it another try. The same weirdness happens again—now this is definitely MSE’s fault.

Not only that, when I tried to update MSE’s definition files, the update would stall halfway through. And now my Internet was acting up! Windows Update also stalled—mein gott, what’s happening? Called my ISP and they said no, there were no anomalies in the cosmos, no breaks or tears in the Internet zone. I decide to give it a day or two and see whether it’d clear up by itself. Of course it’s like asking cancer to go find another body.

Day 3 and I am definitely getting very annoyed. MSE and Windows Update both stall, some Internet websites have to be reloaded two or three times, including Google’s homepage. Now there is the likelihood I have a Klingon Bird of Prey in my system, invisibly cloaked. And that dang MSE is still accessing my floppy drive every now and then—UGH UGH! OK, I am blasting it out of orbit. I go to Vista’s Programs and Features, locate MSE and then say an eloquent farewell to it (well actually I told it to get lost and gave it one swift kick in the tush). Rebooted my computer for good measure, Windows Update activated itself and—it went straight through without stalling! Not only that, all my favorite websites load, and all sections report that things are back to normal.

So how ironic is this, eh? Microsoft’s own MSE screwing up Windows Update—and I thought I had a mean trojan or something in my ship (oops, sorry—system) I scoured some sites for MSE and found that I wasn’t alone; many other users were having trouble with it but I was the only one with the phantom activation of my floppy drive. It was also interesting to hear many people saying that the beta version of MSE was better than the Final one.

My advice—don’t install MSE for now, until they clear up all the bugs.

Power hungry (part 2)

There are two types of computer users—those who have experienced a power blackout, and those that are about to. Today I was hit by a blackout in the afternoon. I was working on my computer when all of a sudden, pffft! The lights went out, and then surprise surprise—my computer was still on, thanks to my APC Back-UPS CS 650. It beeped periodically, telling me that it was running on battery power. The Power Chute program I installed told me exactly how much time I had left until the battery would run out of juice. I had earlier on configured it to shut down the computer as soon as it had only 5 minutes of power left, so I wasn’t worried.

But silly me, I forgot to connect my monitor to the UPS, so as soon as the blackout struck, my monitor went dark. No problem, I just connected the monitor’s power cable to the UPS and turned on its power switch. So there.

The moral of the story is if you’re using a desktop, it’s not a question of whether or not you’re going to get hit by a blackout, it’s a question of when.

I’m so glad I invested in a good UPS. The money is worth it.

Power hungry

Everyone knows that computers need electricity in order to function (yes, laptops can run on batteries, but batteries have to be charged too) And with power comes corruption, greed…oops, wait. That’s a different sort of power, let me get back on track. No matter which country you live in, your electricity supply isn’t 100% perfect or ideal. Electrical power is subject to the following maladies as outlined by APC here:

  • Sags—Also known as brownouts, sags are short term decreases in voltage levels.
  • Blackouts—Total loss of utility power.
  • Spikes—Also referred to as an impulse, a spike is an instantaneous, dramatic increase in voltage. Akin to the force of a tidal wave, a spike can enter electronic equipment through AC, network, serial or phone lines and damage or completely destroy components.
  • Surges—A short term increase in voltage, typically lasting at least 1/120 of a second.
  • Noise—More technically referred to as Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) and Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), electrical noise disrupts the smooth sine wave one expects from utility power.

In all my almost twenty years of computing, I’ve been hit by all the above. I have relied mostly on surge protectors, and have gone through a few of them. Surge protectors are better than nothing, but they have one major flaw—they don’t enable protection against blackouts. So if you’re hit by a complete power failure, surge protectors are not going to help you one tiny bit.

Enter the UPS, or the Uninterruptible Power Supply. Well I’m going to blush here, because I’ve never owned a UPS, until now. Yup, call me insane, call me irresponsible, whatever. I suppose my alibi is that a UPS is not really cool right? Getting a new video card, a bigger hard disk, a new flat screen monitor, these are cool. But without a UPS, you’re really going onboard your computer ship without any lifejackets or lifeboats. And when disaster strikes, there is a great chance of your computer hardware frying up, and what’s even worse is that the data on your hard disk could be scrambled, due to the sudden power outage.

We’ve had some severe storms here recently, and I’ve experienced the unpleasant situation of the power suddenly tripping in the midst of a deluge. Ugh—if my computer could talk it’d probably scream in agony. So I decided, no more. I didn’t want to put up with this any longer (and I’ve been so lucky thus far; Windows can still boot up, but be sure to run disk checks) I decided to head out to one of the computer stores here to get a UPS.

APC Back-UPS CS 650

When it comes to a UPS, it pays to invest wisely, because your data and equipment is at stake. I decided to settle on an APC (American Power Conversion) UPS, the Back-UPS CS 650. At around $90 USD, it’s not exactly cheap, but it comes with a 2-year warranty and is solidly built. It also allows me to plug in my modem and phone lines for additional protection. I installed its Power Chute software for Vista, which gives me all the information I need at a glance (see the picture below)

APC PowerChute for Windows Vista

All in all I think it’s money well-spent for my computing piece of mind. So if you don’t have a UPS yet, it’s advisable for you to get one (but get a good brand such as APC) before disaster strikes.

Look what Santa brought

I’ve heard that DDR2 RAM (memory) prices will be going up very soon, and seeing as how cheap it still is, I told Santa that I could do with a RAM upgrade—currently I’ve got 2GB in my computer. He said, “Very well,” rummaged in his sack and produced a stick of Kingston 1GB RAM for me. “Will this do?” I said, “Yes! Thanks very much, and Merry Christmas!”

This morning I opened up my PC (other normal people open up their presents) and it took me less than 5 minutes to slot the new RAM in. Voila, now I have a massive 3GB of RAM in my computer. I’ve now reached the maximum amount of RAM for 32-bit Windows Vista. So to all you computer geeks out there, it might be worth your while to maximize your RAM now, while the prices are still low.

RAM it up

This has been a good year as far as RAM (Random Access Memory) prices are concerned. DDR2 RAM (used by the latest Intel processors and motherboards) has been cheap for the past few months. When I upgraded my son’s computer recently I originally went for 1GB of RAM (it’s running Windows XP). But since RAM was so cheap, I figured what the heck, I’d get him another 1GB of Kingston DDR2 RAM. It only cost me RM63 (about $19 USD). And the nice thing is that most memory manufacturers (Kingston included) offer a lifetime warranty on RAM. Beat that!

If you have an earlier Pentium 4 system with the Socket 478 processor layout, you’d be using DDR RAM, which costs just a little more than DDR2 RAM. So if you have 512MB of RAM or less than that in your desktop or laptop, I’d encourage you to add more, especially if you’re running or plan to run Windows Vista. Who knows, RAM prices might go up later this year, I dunno.

One caveat, though. 32-bit Windows systems (most users are running 32-bit systems) can only access up to only 4GB of RAM, so don’t go overboard! 64-bit versions can support up to 128GB of RAM.